Google Instant: point/counterpoint

Faith Merino · September 14, 2010 · Short URL:

Weighing the concerns against the awesomeness of Google Instant

Since unveiling Google Instant last week, the feature has been received with a confused mixture of fear and wonder (“Hey, that’s convenient! Man, what’s happened to the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button!"). While some Internet users have responded to Google Instant with marked enthusiasm, several pessimists remain skeptical of the new instant awesomeness of Google Instant.  Naysayers have accused the new search feature of actually slowing down the search process or of being irrelevant altogether.  So I believe a point/counterpoint analysis of Google Instant is in order.

Argument #1: “It’s annoying. I have no problem simply typing in my search terms and browsing through the results.  The instant search feature does not speed up the search process.”

Wrong!  The instant search feature speeds up the search process in a number of ways.  First and foremost, by providing instant results as you type, you can enter the most efficient search terms to streamline the search process.  For example, if you want to look up information on Lindsay Lohan’s jail sentence, instead of typing in “Lindsay Lohan goes to jail” or “Lindsay Lohan convicted of violating her probation,” simply typing in “Lindsay” will bring up a range of options which includes “Lindsay Lohan jail.”  So not only does the feature spare you the time you would spend typing out excess terms, but it provides the most relevant search terms.

There is also the issue of correct spelling.  Previously, if a user typed in “Lindsey Lohan,” he or she would have to wait for the search results to come up with “did you mean ‘Lindsay Lohan’?” before continuing with the search, but with Google Instant, simply typing in “Lind” will bring up “Lindsay Lohan” and the myriad Lindsay Lohan-related searches you can run.

Argument #2: “If I’m looking for something more obscure than day-to-day items, the instant search results just get in the way.  If I’m looking for ‘kielbasa’ and I type in ‘K,’ ‘kielbasa’ isn’t even in the first group of search results!”

So type in “kielbasa.”

Ultimately, Google Instant is not so much about speed as it is about the number of results you get.  In the old Google Search feature, if you typed in “kielbasa,” you would get a page listing 10 results, with the option of browsing the second or third page.  But most users don’t go beyond the first page—which means most users are limited to a list of ten search results.  But with Google Instant, because a user can keep typing to modify the search results, he or she can browse through 50 or more search results than the previous ten.

Argument #3: “Google Instant has rendered the ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button completely irrelevant.”


In truth, the button is still there and usable.  I wouldn’t say it has been rendered irrelevant, if it means the difference between going straight to the page versus going to a list of search results.  By typing in “vator,” Google Instant will provide a list of possible search results, with at the top.  Clicking on will take you to the list of search results, whereas clicking on the “I’m Feeling lucky” button will take you directly to the website.  If anything, it makes the search even simpler and less of a gamble: by typing in vator, you can see that “” is the first search result on the list, so clicking on “I’m Feeling Lucky” will not take you to a random site that you didn’t mean to go to. 

Not that eliminating the “I’m Feeling Lucky Button” would be a bad thing for Google, which is said to lose as much as $110 million in revenue per year due to the button.  By clicking the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, Web users bypass all of the ads that would have turned up in their search results, which means that Google misses out on all of those lost ad clicks.  Killing the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button would result in a lot of new revenue for Google—but the truth is that the company is not killing the button.  It’s still there and relevant, but the instant results could mean that more users choose to take the search results over the button, which would mean greater profits for the search giant. 

Other Web properties are also jumping on the instant search feature.  Recently, Stanford student Feross Aboukhadijeh used the Google API and popular YouTube search terms to create a YouTube Instant feature.  As you type, the search results pop up instantly with a list of possible videos.  Google Maps is said to be working on a similar project.

And that is why Google Instant is awesome.

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