Friday, May 7, 2010

Google new design: A/B testing fail?

You must have noticed that the Google result pages now have that left bar thingie, and if you hang around techie sites, you probably heard a number of people voice negative opinions about it. "It's redundant, it's cluttered, it's inconsistent, it's a rip-off from Bing" are some of the arguments I've seen more than once so far.

Apparently, this new SERP is the result of some A/B testing Google did, which supposedly is optimized to boost whatever metrics they are interested in boosting.

There's a problem with this idea though, imho:

How do they know they are boosting the right metrics?. For the top link on the page, one could say: the more clicks per second, the better. But what about the "more" link on the left bar? Given that a click on that is one less click on the top link, what do you optimize for? Is the local optimization contributing or detracting to the overall goal of the page?

Is it in Google's interest to make its UI look the same as Bing's?

Is it cool that users have to re-learn that now there's a block of stuff on the left and the actual search result titles are shorter (and sometimes, plain cut-off)?

Is it cool that this encourages power users to whip up home made UI-customization scripts?

How does this habit-changing move speak to the Google-loving tribe (the mouth-to-mouth advertisers)?

I wouldn't say this change was a dumb-move-that-will-kill-Google(tm) or anything drastic and stupid like that, but I'd note that in the Internet, things don't die, they just fade away slowly as an overwhelming amount of better stuff comes along. If anything, I think this change was a tiny step towards that direction.

My 2 cents.

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