Today Google announced its new Instant Search functionality. Basically instead of just showing search suggestions in a drop down box below the search text box, Google now displays full search results in the browser window below the text box.
It’s hard to describe exactly how this works unless you try it. Instant Search should be available to all US users today. Two caveats: You must be logged in to Google, and it only works from the main search page at http://www.google.com. This is not available from igoogle or searches embedded into other websites.
The effect is at first mesmerizing as you see the search results appearing as you type rather than having to hit the return key. To get to your results, you can click directly on a result link or hit the Return key on your keyboard. One of the nice things is that you can find what you are looking for even if you are not sure how to spell a word because the results will start showing up immediately and you can see how you may need to correct the spelling immediately.
In the end this is about enhancing search capabilities and speeds up your searches immensely. Rather than typing in a search phrase and waiting for the results, you start seeing results right away.
Less time equals more productive. At least that is the theory. I suspect some people will find this new search mechanism is too distracting. Fortunately you can turn the feature off with the drop down menu right next to the search box.
Google says it’s all about “Speed, Speed, Speed.”
But there may be another reason to turn off Instant Search. While Google says the new Instant Search is all about speed, there is an obvious downside: To deliver all of those results as you type there must be a continuous stream of data being sent to your browser from Google. That means Instant Search is also about bandwidth. I think there is a more accurate name for Instant Search: Streaming Search. Much like you can stream audio and video from the web to your browser now you get search data streamed.
The problem is that many ISP’s are already cranking down on our bandwidth limitations as more and more content is delivered to the desktop. Comcast has had a long standing bandwidth cap of 250 Gigabytes of data per month. AT&T recently changed their unlimited monthly bandwidth to smart phone users. Now you have the choice of 250 megabytes for $15/month or 2 gigabytes for $25/month. Rates go up as you use more data.
Streaming Search is not going to use nearly as much bandwidth as Streaming Video or Audio, but it all adds up. This is probably why Google and Verizon recently proposed having wired data delivered equally, but wireless data would be prioritized based on the service providers.
All of this is pushing us towards the realization that bandwidth really is not free. Someone has to pay for it and as the average user starts to consume as much data as the so called “bandwidth hogs,” the ISP’s and providers are going to have to come up with new business models. More important, we need better infrastructure. In the very near future there are going to be more people using the Internet to watch TV, listen to sporting events, music, etc. Skype already has millions of VOIP users and those numbers are going up rapidly. Apple TV is going to mean more HD content to more households.
More bandwidth makes consumers happy, but it is a real headache for the providers. I don’t think Google’s Instant Search will be the straw that breaks the camels back, but it is a very real sign of how content providers will find new and unusual ways to use available bandwidth. Prepare for the ISP’s to fight back.