Changing Search Engine Interfaces

Yes – design of the search engine interface changes frequently – and with Google, it seems weekly.  And no two identical queries will return the same results. Greg Notess looks at this closely – port of the reason is that Google and Bing are constantly experimenting and tweaking.

Search Engine Interfaces: Confronting Consistent Inconsistency in the September/October issue of Online Searcher.

Google does more than 5000 experiments in a year.  No wonder I’m constantly wondering where to find something – or if it even still exists.

How much of this type of new design will still be in effect by next year is anyone’s guess. It certainly creates a challenge for teachers who plan on showing features (now defunct) such as Google’s tilde for related terms (Google originally called it synonym searching) or search tools for translated pages, similar pages, and pages with images. Since there is rarely any advance notice, you can plan a lesson on such features only to see Google remove those options right before or after the training session. But it is also a teachable opportunity to remind others that features and services may or may not continue to be available. The recent demise of popular services such as Google Reader, iGoogle, and the + symbol for exact searching are good examples of this.

Smaller engines change less frequently but a change can still be dramatic – such as Blekko’s redesign in May 2013 – also described by Notess.

Also noted – Yahoo’s new design in the US – somewhat minimalist, I think – kind of design that makes one try to remember what it had before.

Blekko with New Interface

Blekko, the slashtag and spam free search engine, made some very dramatic changes to its search interface and results display.  Gone, in particular, is any mention of slashtags.  Blekko creates its index from the sites picked by member editors or collectors as well as through agreements with some sources.  The topical areas could be accessed using a slashtag – such as /health  to pick up results from a health category.  Now with the new design results are grouped into the top two to four  “categories” and various arrows and controls provided for expanding a group and for paging through results. Images or related searches will show in the right pane.

Blekko's new display - May 2013

Blekko’s new display – May 2013

It’s pretty – the colours are fresh and the handling is smooth.  The design owes some of its elements to Blekko’s izik  search engine for the tablet and itself would play well on a tablet. In fact, they share the same front page.

Attractive as it is, it isn’t as functional as the old Blekko. Slashtags may have taken time to figure out but were useful. You could quickly use /date to sort by date or /health – because surely there was a category for it – or get suggestions from the instant search.  /date may still work as a method for sorting by date but it’s harder to detect. Instead Blekko now shows a category for Latest.

The previous version also offered more function to view cache, search the source site, get similar pages, and two or three others, which I can’t find in the new version.

blekko-2012-more

We can still access the old Blekko at edit.blekko.com/

Blekko never supported much syntax, but site: does still work – eg site:gc.ca senate expenses.  Minus sign will exclude.

Bing tried to get away from the “10 blue link” a couple of years ago when it grouped by topic determined by its software.  It did not last long. Will Blekko succeed or revert as Bing did?

Blekko announced the changes in this blog posting – Announcing a Major Blekko Site Redesign (May 29). Categories do have benefits, well expressed in this sentence:

“Displaying multiple categories for a given search term has several benefits. First and foremost, it can be very challenging for a search engine to disambiguate user intent from a vague query term such as ‘apple’ or ‘tesla’ which could trigger many different flavors of results. Is the user seeking information about Tesla electric cars, the inventor Nicola Tesla or perhaps lyrics for an 80s hair band?”

According to the press release Blekko’s user base “has grown to about 12.5 million, with more than 5 million searches a day”.

Much About Blekko’s Slashtags

Blekko is the slashtag engine. Its main strength (apart from blocking spam) is the topical treatment through slashtags for filtering results.  For example, if you were searching for vegetarian diets, you’d be wise to limit to the /vegetarian slashtag – eg breakfast/vegetarian.

This posting about 10 Blekko Secrets at  Search Engine People (Dec ) is a mini-guide to using slashtags well. Blekko might recommend a slashtag, but you can also use directories to locate them. In fact there is even a tag for it – /directory.

I didn’t know that slashtags are described – just as any true classifier will create a scope note for a category, so will a Blekko slashtag maker. These can be viewed by combining a slashtag with the additional tag /view — such as in this given example — /small business/view.

There is more about Blekko search in the article.