The biggest names in Internet searching are spinning
off some siblings — test sites for trying out new features that could
spell big changes for Web search as it exists today.
In September, Google
launched SearchMash.com without the Google name, although it is
the normal Google search results in an entirely different interface,
with video, blog and image results on the same screen.
Ask.com recently launched Ask X, at AskX.com, which divides the results
page into an unusual three-panel display. Besides the standard search
results, users see suggested terms to help narrow or expand the search,
as well as results broken down by categories such as news and
now uses AlltheWeb.com and AltaVista.com, both of which it acquired in
recent years, to experiment with processes like "livesearch," a feature
that will start suggesting search terms for you when you type just one
Windows Live unit is attempting to provide some entertainment on its
recently launched MsDewey.com, a search engine where users pose their
queries to prerecorded video clips of an actress playing the role of
Ms. Dewey, a brassy and attractive woman in a low-cut black dress. Ms.
Dewey pipes back with one of some 1,000 scripted responses pegged to
what the user typed, while the search results appear on the side.
The search engines are no strangers to testing new
concepts before they hit prime time, and they have operated their own
internal test sites and labs for years. But now, they are making their
bold new ideas more public and asking users for feedback.
The sibling sites generally package the same set of
search results you would find on the branded sites in new ways. For
example, the major search engines so far have resisted combining
various types of searches — like image search, video search and local
search — on one screen, worried that consumers would find it too
messy. But the spinoffs are embracing that approach.
Another theme: trying to help users refine their
searches without having to start all over again. Google’s SearchMash,
which rotates new features in and out every few weeks, has also
experimented with blending in spell-check-adjusted results.
The new moves come at a time when the standard search
model hasn’t changed much in almost a decade. But Internet users are
looking for new ways to search more content — including proliferating
video, blogs, photos and social-networking profiles — more easily.