Google’s New Advanced Search: tidier, but how much better?

Note: This post might be a little dated. It was published in March 2008.

You may have noticed that Google changed their Advanced Search page eariler this month. The new version certainly is a lot tidier than the old one, which was a complete dogs dinner – take a look at a screen grab of the old version below, the green lines added to emphasise the layout issues.

google_advanced_search.gif

So is the new version better? In a nutshell, it’s tidier but not much better.

Back in January, Stephen Turbek wrote an interesting article on Advanced Search interfaces. Among other things, he pointed out that after a search is performed on Google, the “advancedness” is lost. You get taken back to the standard search results page, with a few boolean operators thrown into the search box.

There’s a certain degree of arrogance in this behaviour – the user says, very explicitly “I want you to help me to do an advanced search”. Google replies “Hmm, sure, but what you really to do is learn how to use boolean operators like a pro. That way you can use our standard search page instead, see?”

In fact the entire advanced search page is designed to teach you how to manually construct boolean searches rather than to help you do an advanced search. Take a look at the contextual help tips, for example. If you click a “tip” link it tells you how to construct a standard search with boolean operators. So, you ask for help on one thing, and it tells you help on another.

To use an analogy, if a kid asked you for help riding a bike, you’d give them stabilizers. You wouldn’t start telling them about clutch control on a motorbike straight away. So why isn’t Google giving novice searchers any love, compared to Yahoo and their rather nice AJAX search assist tool?

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