If you’ve ever used the built-in site search on Subtraction.com then, well, my apologies. Believe me, I was fully aware that searching this site via that creaky old CGI script was more or less the equivalent of mailing in a question to the Library of Congress and checking your mailbox every day for a reply after working in the fields. That is, it was slow search. I just didn’t have the means to fix it.
All that’s changed, because searching this site is now powered by the brute, irrepressible and undeniable force of Google. They’re a little company on the West coast that specializes in helping you find stuff on the Interweb. And they’re quite good at it too, so the results should be pretty satisfying. Give it a spin; you’ll notice a bajillion-fold speed increase. Now all you have to do is figure out what you’re going to do with all that extra time.
This change for the better was made possible by Google’s pretty good and relatively new Google Co-op program, which allows everyday users like you and me to create custom search engines for our sites. Unlike previous tools from Google that offered similar custom search engine functionality, it’s actually possible to manipulate the look and feel of a Co-op engine’s results display so that it aesthetically matches your own site.
Right: Results oriented. The new Subtraction.com search results display, courtesy of Google.
That is, it’s possible to do that to an extent, as you must still use a handful of relatively simple controls on Google’s Web site in order to effect your manipulation. It’s better than what was functionally available before — if you try a search, you’ll see that the results are reasonably in line with the look of Subtraction.com — but it’s far from a completely manipulable tool. It’s not altogether easy to affect low-level change on the results’ typography, for instance, which is something I’d really like to do.
The State of Search
Slowness aside, I had a fondness for the old, built-in site search provided by Movable Type. It allowed a much higher level of control over the results display, and its method of breaking out results according to one’s various blogs — so that if your installation of Movable Type powered four blogs, for instance, it would group results from each blog together — made for some pretty useful results, all things considered.
I’m a realist though. And there’s no denying that over the past half-decade, the reality of search has become Google. Which is to say that when a user of a Web site enters a search term into a search field — just about any search field, regardless of where on the Web it is — the expectation for the nature of the search experience is the Google search experience.
Users now expect results to be returned as quickly as Google’s results, expect them to be displayed in a simple, unadorned manner like Google’s, expect them to be as relevant as Google’s. It just doesn’t make sense to be in the search game on your own anymore, to attempt to provide a competitive product to Google’s when people can just go straight to Google themselves. Why fight it?
Incidentally, this is the advice I offer anyone looking to improve their search, whether it’s a Fortune 1000 company, a startup, an individual blogger or even my own employers. Unless you’re really prepared to compete with Google in terms of financing, engineering and experience design, I say just get out of the search game altogether and let Google handle it for you while you focus on what only you can do — and Google cannot.
Now that’s taken care of, it’s time to do something about the painful slowness of my comment submission form.