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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Google Subscribed Links Integrated Into Universal Search

Ben Allen found that Google now integrates Subscribed Links results in-between other organic search results, as part of the “universal search” initiative; this may be new, though it’s hard to tell for sure. “Subscribed Links” are a feature of the Google Co-Op program. It’s a service (which you can create too) that will display special custom results in a box displayed on the Google results, provided you are described subscribed to that box. What has changed (if this is indeed new) is that this box is now integrated “universal search"-style, meaning that if you are subscribed, Google will try figure out how relevant the box is to your query, and then display it on top, or in the middle, somewhere further down the page, or not at all. This already happens with special Google News results appearing in web results, among other so-called “oneboxes.”

As an example, I’ve just subscribed to the Digg box, the Google Translation box, and the Wikipedia box. Now when I enter the query translate who are you into chinese into the normal web search, I’m getting the translation box (printing out “你是谁”) as fourth result:

As another example, entering vista now returns a special box from news site

The Wikipedia box on the other hand pops up for certain definitions, or distance measurements (like distance from Paris to London).

Google’s subscribed links service can be useful, but it’s still a bit of an exotic service, not on the radar of too many. At least, that’s the feeling you get when you look at some of the statistics Google discloses; their translation box has 1,811 users, their Digg box has 19,179 users, and the Wikimedia box has 16,495. Which might be a lot for any other company, but seems on the lower end for Google, who can easily “transfer” a portion of their users from one service to another by cross-integrating their products.

(Also, the Google Subscribed Links Directory search is somewhat broken, so maybe this program isn’t getting much attention within Google either; entering translation and hitting the Find Subscribed Links button returns two results, “Co-op Profile - Search Engine Roundtable” and “Co-op Profile - Melissa Conrad Stöppler, M.D.” ... but not the translation gadget! Other search queries work slightly better.)

Perhaps part of the problem is that in many cases, if a box is truly superbly relevant for a query, it shouldn’t require the user to opt-in first, but Google ought to display it to everyone instead. For instance, why do I need to subscribe to the translation box in order to have the query translate who are you into chinese be immediately translated? The search query already suggests there’s a high chance a direct translation might be a helpful special result, Subscribed Links or not. (Not that this means there’s no good use-case left for the service, but I guess this does mean it’s of a more limited use, for a more limited group.)

[Thanks Ben!]


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