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October 3, 2006

SearchMash: Google’s new playground

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If you’re a frequent ResourceShelf reader you caught Gary Price’s post about Google recently registering several domain names using the term “mashup”. Well, one of those domains was SearchMash.com and it seems to be up and running, albeit in limited use.

According to Search Engine Watch, SearchMash.com appears to be an unbranded Google test site where Google can test user interface ideas. Google has chosen to use the unbranded site instead of running the tests in Google Labs (or within their own interface) in order to keep the results as objective as possible. Google said they feared putting the Google brand on the tests would skew the results.

While I originally took that to mean Google was afraid users would automatically embrace the tests because it was Google, Danny Sullivan more accurately explains that Google didn’t want SearchMash.com to have to live up to Google-sized expectations.

Okay, fine, that makes more sense.

What does SearchMash.com offer users?

  • Numbered results that users can reorder – This is pretty cool. Especially if Google gives users this option in their personalized search. Allowing users to decide what shows up where? It doesn’t get anymore personalized than that.
  • Combined Image Search (ala A9) – Images show up side-by-side with the Web results. I’m not a fan of this and I don’t see how Google could ever keep this feature. What would happen to all its right-hand advertising space? Advertisers will not be happy.
  • No search button – I have to admit, this irks me. I’m tech savvy enough to know what I’m supposed to do when presented with a search box, but I miss my “Google Search” button. And I know this will significantly decrease my mother’s ability to perform a search.
  • Infinite Scrolling – When users click to get more results, they’re presented with a rapid animation that adds additional results to the bottom of your current SERP. This is very cool. Or at least, I enjoy the end result. Having all your results on one page (especially from an SEO perspective) is immensely valuable; however, the animation scares me half to death. I feel like I need to grab on to something.

So, it looks like for the moment SearchMash is just Google’s playground. But what about its long term plans. Remember the test engine is called “SearchMash”. Reading into that a bit, could this be what Marissa Mayer was referring to when she spoke about users being able to build their own search engines? A mash-up search engine, if you will?

“Marissa Mayer, who manages search products, says the company has assigned more engineers to search than ever before and plans to release a new search tool that will enable users to design and build their own flavor of Google search, scanning just the sites they’re interested in.”

You have to think it could be. Especially with the amount of control users have with the engine’s SERP.

It’ll be fun to see what Google throws into SearchMash, how they conduct their user testing and what percentage of SearchMash features (if any) will be implemented into Google. What would happen if users went wild over having a combined image search located where Google’s ads once sat? How would Google respond? I imagine they’d ignore it and work the image search somewhere else, but what if they didn’t?

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