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Google tests updated results page

More text and images now available

Google is testing a different page format for its general web search results that lets users significantly expand the content provided below website links.

The improved format gives users the option of viewing much more text than the usual line or two that Google now runs below each website link it returns after a query. Some of the results also include a photo from the website, something Google does on other search services, such as Google News.

The expanded results also include a search box to let users run a query against that site specifically. It also offers links to other sites that are related to the ones on the results list.

The CyberNet technology news blog has several screenshots of the new results page here.

This test results page seems to fit the description of a search-engine technology called Orion that Google recently acknowledged having acquired months ago from the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Orion reportedly increases the amount of information available to users on a results page, to help them determine whether they want to navigate to the sites listed.

Those screenshots on CyberNet are legitimate and the test is one in a series of trials that Google routinely conducts with a relatively small sample of its users "to evaluate better ways to search", a Google spokeswoman wrote in an email. "We are currently testing new ways to refine searches such as the ones you see in these screenshots. There's no set schedule when we'll roll out these sorts of new ideas, if ever, but these tests help us improve the overall search experience."

The spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a question sent via email as to whether the Orion technology is being used in this test results page.

Competition is fierce among search engines to provide a better search experience, as it is widely acknowledged that the traditional approach of delivering thousands of website links isn't necessarily the most convenient way of solving a query.

Along these lines, search-engine operators such as Google, Yahoo and Ask.com are testing and implementing features to help users refine queries, filter long lists of results and obtain concrete answers and data within the search results page without having to necessarily navigate away from it to individual sites.

While Google remains by far the most popular search engine, user loyalty is feeble, since trying out different search engines is extremely easy for users, compared with switching among other types of online services, such as instant messaging and email, which can be more inconvenient and time-consuming.

It also remains to be seen if website publishers would approve of Google significantly increasing the amount of content it scrapes from their web pages and shows to users. This practice of reproducing text and images from web pages in search results is controversial and has led to lawsuits against Google.

For example, the AFP (Agence France Presse) wire service is suing Google, alleging copyright infringement over the inclusion of AFP content in the Google News search service. Google News aggregates links to news stories, often providing excerpts and thumbnail images from them. Perfect 10, an adult entertainment company, is also suing the company over inclusion of thumbnail images of its photos in Google's image search service.

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