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Google adds Instant Previews to search

Google is extending its new “instant” mantra for Internet searching, announcing Instant Previews, a new feature of Google search results that will provide a visual preview of a Web site that turns up in a search results listing before users click through to it. The goal is to help users quickly identify sites that aren’t relevant to what they want, based on a graphical image of the page selected as a search result. How much of an improvement should users expect? Google says Instant Preview users are about 5 percent more likely to be satisfied with the search results they do eventually click.

“We realized early on that this kind of experience would only make sense if it was lightning fast,” wrote Google product manager Raj Krishnan, in the company blog. “We match your query with an index of the entire Web, identify the relevant parts of each Web page, stitch them together and serve the resulting preview completely customized to your search—usually in under one-tenth of a second.”

Google Instant Preview puts a magnifying glass next to page titles appearing on Google search results pages; clicking the magnifying glass pulls up a sizable preview of the results page to the right. Once a magnifying glass has been clicked, the page subtly converts to an “Instant Preview” mode: at that point, users just need to hover over other magnifying glasses to see previews for other pages: no clicking required.

The idea of visual previews in search results is not new: Ask.com rolled out a “binoculars” feature years ago that enabled users to see a graphic preview of a Web page in search results. However, Google Instant Preview extends the idea a bit: Google’s previews highlight in orange where search terms appear on the results page, as well as providing a graphical representation of the page’s layout.

Google says Instant Preview is rolling out to users now, and should be available to Google searchers in more than 40 languages over the next few days. Of course, users on slower connections may be wondering if the bandwidth involved in Google Instant Preview is worth a possible five percent improvement in the odds they’ll like a site, but in limited testing Google seems to have implemented the feature intelligently, with that initial first click of a magnifying glass making it possible for users with limited bandwidth to avoid the overhead of Instant Preview.