Google Fast Flip is a web application that lets users…”flip” through pages online as quickly as flipping through a magazine…We capture images of the articles on our partners’ websites and then display them in an easy-to-read way…Readers can flip through stories quickly by simply pressing the left- and right-arrow keys until they find one that catches their interest. Clicking on the story takes them directly to the publisher’s website.
Funny, it reminds me a lot of Searchme.com (see this writeup by Danny Sullivan) from 2008, which itself was largely a continuation of Ask’s visual previews (binoculars) from 2006. Funny thing is, visual search interfaces such as these have been pretty universally panned for quite some time now. And panned by Google as well, if I remember correctly — I’m fairly sure I read something fairly official about it, though darned if I can find that post because Google’s search doesn’t allow “sort by least recent” relevant results, only “sort by most recent”. Personally, I love interfaces like this and find them much easier to deal with. But Google disagrees, and has (presumably) done all sorts of A/B testing to conclude that users don’t want to see their search results visually. Because otherwise they would have rolled out these changes years ago, at the same time as, if not ahead of, Ask and SearchMe. Right?
Or are Bing’s innovations in the interface domain finally spurring Google on, finally providing the competition to improve search that A/B testing cannot? Not that Google is directly copying Bing; this particular feature is more from Ask.com and SearchMe.com as mentioned above. But as Twitter user @philosophygeek reported in June: “A Google employee just told me that Bing was the best thing that ever happened to interface design at Google #semtech2009″. Perhaps Fast Flip is evidence that Bing’s presence is starting to have its effect; and an HCIR interface that Google otherwise really doesn’t want to use in its search results is now available for public consumption.
Witness this search for [health care]. The results aren’t 10 blue links. The results are 30 visual representations of results pages.
I think this is fantastic. I will admit that it does confuse me, however, as Marissa Mayer has already publicly stated that users don’t want to see more than 10 search results at a time. And that users want simple, uncluttered interfaces. This new interface is both visually much busier and fuller. Again, don’t get me wrong. I love it and am all for it. I just have a long-standing, ongoing headscratcher-of-a-concern about the value of A/B testing, especially when other considerations, i.e. competition, throw it all to the wind.