SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc’s search engine now displays results before users finish typing.
The new technology, dubbed Google Instant, can shave two seconds to five seconds off every Internet search, Google said on Wednesday, and could entice users to search more on its website.
And with competition increasing from Internet rivals such as Microsoft Corp, Yahoo Inc and Facebook, the technology gives Google new ammunition to tout its advantages to web surfers and online advertisers.
“To our knowledge no one has provided search-as-you-type to their users,” said Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search and user experience, on the sidelines of an event announcing the product at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday.
During a presentation unveiling Google Instant on Wednesday, Mayer compared the new technology to an automobile’s power steering.
“Once you get used to it, it’s very tough to go back,” said Mayer, though she acknowledged that in testing, certain users had opted to switch off the new feature.
The new technology, which was made available in the United States on Wednesday, means Google’s search engine can serve up a local weather forecast as soon as a user types the letter “W” in the search box, for instance. If the user continues typing a word other than “weather” into the search box, the results on the page instantly refresh and change accordingly.
Google already offered a feature that suggested popular search queries as a user typed a word in the search box, but the new feature actually delivers a complete page of search results as a search term is being typed.
Analysts said the new technology could help Google, the world’s No. 1 search engine, further increase its market share.
Stifel Nicolaus analyst Jordan Rohan called Google Instant a “potential game changer” that competitors will have a hard time replicating, in a note to investors on Wednesday.
Google is facing increased competition from Microsoft Corp’s Bing search engine, which recently signed a search partnership with Yahoo.
New technologies, such as the specialized applications that run on Apple Inc’s iPhones and fast-growing social networking services such as Facebook, are also threatening to undermine Google’s position as the main gateway to online information, according to analysts.
Google shares are down roughly 26 percent from their 52-week high of $629.51.
Investors are concerned about increasing competition and rising spending at Google, as well as international expansion opportunities following Google’s high-profile disagreement with China over censorship earlier this year.
Separately on Friday, Google’s legal chief called for pressure on governments that censor the Internet, such as China and Turkey, arguing that blocking access to websites not only violates human rights but unfairly restrains U.S. trade.
Google executives said the new Google Instant technology would not change the order in which its search engine ranks Web pages or the way it displays advertisements alongside search results.
Still, the changes were a cause of concern among some of the websites and advertisers whose businesses can be significantly affected by changes to Google’s search engine.
Kevin Lee, the chief executive of Didit, a search marketing firm that manages more than $160 million of advertising spending, said he was already fielding calls from a few clients.
The big question, Lee said, is whether Google’s recommended search results will distract web surfers from the information they were initially looking for.
“Instead of refining searches, it may end up derailing searches. That’s my big concern,” said Lee.
“Advertisers have to watch if they’re getting a different sort of visitor than they would have before,” Lee said.
Google generated nearly $24 billion of revenue in 2009, predominantly from search advertising.
Google said the technology will also be available in many more countries, including France and the UK, in several weeks, and said it hoped to have a version that works on smartphones available in the coming months.
Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Andre Grenon, Matthew Lewis and Steve Orlofsky