Google ramps up speed of search

Instant Pages being demoed Google hopes that improved search times will drive growth in advertising revenue

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Google has made changes to its search engine as it strives to get consumers the information they want faster.

Its new Instant Pages system will shave between two to five seconds off the time it takes for a web page to load, the company said.

It is also planning to offer voice-activated and enhanced image searching.

Google, which processes one billion requests every day, said search remained its core focus.

The firm still dominates the market although Microsoft's Bing is slowly eating into its share.

Bing's US searches rose to 14 percent in May from 12 percent at the end of 2010. It also powers searching on Yahoo, which has 15.9 percent of the market while Google's share slipped to 66 percent from 67 percent, according to measurement firm comScore

Instant Pages works by pre-loading the page associated with the top search result in the background as a user decides what to click on.

Google relies on its relevance technology to confidently predict the number one result a user will pick.

That means when the top pre-rendered link is chosen, the web page opens instantaneously.

The search giant said it typically takes around five seconds for a web page to launch once someone clicks on it.

"We at Google will not be happy until we make the Web as easy to flip through as a magazine," Google fellow Amit Singhal said at the Inside Search event in San Francisco.

"We are obsessed with speed. We often say speed is still the killer app," he added.

During a demo at the event the Washington Post home page loaded immediately with Instant Pages, compared to 3.2 seconds without it.

Last year the Silicon Valley firm introduced Google Instant which gives users results to queries while queries are being typed into the search box.

Positive impact

"What we have observed is that every time we shave 15 milliseconds from the speed, users search more and more, said Mr Singhal.

Over the next couple of weeks Instant Pages will be made available to users of Google's Chrome web browser.

The company said it would open access to the software code so other browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer could also incorporate the feature.

"Making it ubiquitous will make people go wow, Google just made the web faster," said Matt Rosoff, west coast editor of Business Insider.

"As far as Google is concerned it is another thing that will continue to draw people to Google and make sure they don't leave for another competitor like Microsoft."

Say it

On mobile, Google is offering an alternative to the traditional keyword search with icons linked to common searches such as restaurants, coffee shops and bars.

It said that the move was prompted by a rise in searches involving nearby places.

The company is also preparing to introduce voice-activated search for personal computers. The feature already exists on mobile devices.

The tool, represented by a small microphone icon in the far right of the Google search box, will appear over the coming days.

In a demonstration, reporters were shown that the search engine understands the difference between Worcester, Massachusetts, and Wooster College - words that sound the same but are spelt differently.

"Arguably speaking is the most natural way we learn to express our needs. It remains to be seen what kinds of usage scenarios may be important when it comes to the desktop. As the data comes in we will learn (that) over time," said Mike Cohen, manager of speech technology at Google.

According to Google, voice search traffic has grown six-fold over the past year, and every day users speak about two years' worth of speech into the system.

The company also revealed during its presentation that as many as 230 billion words a day are entered into the language bank system, helping to improve the way it deals with accents, pronunciations and colloquialisms.

The speech recognition tool will only be available on Google's Chrome web browser for now but executives said they hope other software makers would eventually implement the technology.

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