Google Instant Shortcuts

Google Instant Search, the feature that shows search results as you type, is now publicly available. According to a press site, “Google Instant is starting to roll-out to users on Google domains in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia who use the latest browsers (Chrome versions 5 and later, Firefox version 3 and later, Safari version 5 for Mac and Internet Explorer version 8). Please note, users on domains other than and can only access Google Instant if they are signed in to a Google Account.”

If you don’t see the new feature, go to Google’s homepage, click on “ in English” and log in to a Google account. If you still don’t see it, try this URL:

When you start to type a query, Google moves the search box to the top of the page and shows a list of 4 suggestions, followed by the search results for the first suggestion. That means you can just type “ny” and get the search results for [ny times] almost instantly. Google shows the predicted query in the search box, but the characters automatically added by Google are grayed out.

If you intend to type [ny times crossword], you can press Tab or use the right arrow to add “times” to your query and continue typing “crossword”. Use the up/down arrows to pick a different suggestion and you’ll notice that the results are displayed without having to press Enter.

The nice thing about the new interface is that you can use the “I’m feeling lucky” much more easily. For example, to visit the top search result for [ny times crossword], select the suggestion using the down arrow and perform “I’m feeling lucky” using the right arrow.

How to visit New York Times homepage using 4 keystrokes? ny Down Right. How to go to Yelp using 4 keystrokes? ye Down Right.

Another great thing about the new interface is that the search box always has focus. You never have to click on the search box to add a new word to your query.

If you don’t like Google’s suggestions, you can always ignore them and press Enter to find the results for the query that you’ve typed.

To sum up:
Tab/Right arrow = pick the first suggestion
Up/Down arrow = select another suggestion from the list
Right arrow while selecting a suggestion = I’m feeling lucky
Enter or Esc = ignore the suggestions and find the results for your query

Google Instant, behind the scenes

The design challenge: relevant, not distractingOur key design challenge was to make sure people would notice relevant results without being distracted. We knew it would take extensive testing to find the right design, so we ran through a sequence of prototypes, usability studies (testing with people from the community), dogfooding (testing with Google employees) and search experiments (testing with a small percentage of Google users). Some of our early prototypes weren’t perfect. For example, we tried a prototype where we waited for someone to stop typing before showing results, which did not work. We realized the experience needed to be fast to work well. We also considered other interfaces which essentially clustered results for a variety of queries based on probability. Here are a couple examples:

Grouped results prototype

Blended results prototype

In the end, our grouped and blended interfaces seemed too difficult to scan while typing, so we pursued a model based on a single search. We hit upon two features that worked well together: first, a query prediction in the search box in gray text and second, results for the top prediction that update continuously while the user types. In user studies, people quickly found a new way to interact with Google: type until the gray text matches your intention and then move your eyes to the results. We were actually surprised at how well this worked—most people in our studies didn’t even notice that anything had changed. Google was just faster.The infrastructure challenge: 5-7X more results pages for typical searchesWe’ve been optimizing performance and speed for more than 10 years, and we’ve found that every second counts. When we came to the infrastructure team and said, “we’re going to be serving five to seven times as many results pages for each query performed in Google Instant,” first they threw a fit, then they figured out how to get us there! Even before Instant, Google was serving more than a billion searches per day, and our systems were optimized to ensure those searches happen as quickly as possible (usually less than a quarter second). How could we serve so many more searches without breaking or slowing down our systems?One solution would have been to simply invest in a tremendous increase in server capacity, but we wanted to find smarter ways to solve the problem. We did increase our back-end capacity, but we also pursued a variety of strategies to efficiently address the incredible demand from Google Instant. Some of these are quite technical, but here are some examples:

  • We deployed new caches that can handle high request rates while keeping results fresh as we continuously crawl and re-index the web.
  • We introduced user-state data into our back-ends to keep track of the results pages already shown to a given user—this way we don’t re-fetch the same results repeatedly.
  • We optimized page-rendering JavaScript code to help ensure web browsers could keep up with the rest of the system.

In total, these efforts enabled us to release Google Instant while maintaining the speed people have come to expect from Google.The engineering team at workAs Google Instant neared completion, we packed the core teams into two large rooms on our main campus. We began having daily stand stand-up meetings (more than 50 people). With all that hard work behind us, we’re thrilled to see Google Instant out in the wild! But, in some ways, this is just the beginning of a new kind of “conversational” search interaction. We will continue to experiment, as we always have—and with the help of your feedback, we hope to make Instant even better over time! While it’s a big change, I personally believe that we’ll look back and wonder how search was ever any other way.

Members of the Google Instant team watching the launch announcement

Posted by Ben Gomes