Google tests dumbed down search service

Could Google's search interface get any simpler? Google is testing a new service that aims to make common searches even easier – after discovering that many users are confused by its basic search page. The directory-style 'Google Navigator' service being trialled in China is simply a page full of the most common search phrases.

Confused users just click on the one they want.

“We discovered Google [search] has two substantially different kinds of user. One is the experienced search user – the basic Google interface is very suitable for them,” explains Google China public relations manager, Cui Jin.

“But we also have large numbers of another kind of user with extremely limited needs: 'mouse clickers'. They just want to type key words to go quickly to their favorite website, but they are often stuck in Google for a long time without finding what they want.”

For these less-experienced users Google Navigator offers a quick, but extremely limited, 'search'. “We don't think we should ignore our users' needs. And we think these kind of services will attract large numbers of users,” says Cui Jin.

Google lags far behind local rival Baidu in China's search market, and has been criticized for failing to adapt to meet local users' needs. In fact, Google's new service appears to a virtual clone of one already offered by Baidu.

Google arranges the links for the Navigator page based on their ranking in its search engine. At the top of the page are the most common search terms, including MSN, Yahoo Mail, the People's Daily newspaper, TV stations, and all of Google's Chinese competitors, such as Baidu, Sohu, Netease, and so on.

For the really confused, there's even a link to Google itself.

Google hopes to bring the service to other countries in future, according to information on the Google Navigator website.

As well as the direct links, a sidebar on the right side of the screen lists common categories. If clicked, these open up new pages with links to other websites. The topmost categories include blogs, novels and literature, desktop wallpapers, photos, pinups and humor.

The beta version of Google Navigator, or 'Dao Hang', as it is called in Chinese, does allow for some user customization. Different category sections can be repositioned with basic Ajax or Web 2.0 techniques. But even here, simplicity reigns. There's no potentially confusing drag and drop interface, just simple arrows that move a section up or down.

The extreme simplicity of Google's search interface has long been seen as one of its strongest points in the West. However, it seems that the open ended-nature of the search is actually confusing for some.

Western internet firms like eBay, Yahoo and Google have done relatively poorly in China and have been criticized for failing to adapt to the different requirements of Chinese web users.

In China, Google's standard interface is remarkably different from most of its competitors. Almost all popular Chinese web portals are crammed with an eye-popping array of short, densely-packed links. Some have more than 500 links on the extremely long main page, although a few appear to have reduced the numbers over the past year.

Among the popular sites, only Google-lookalike, Baidu, has a simple interface. Baidu leads Google by a substantial margin in China's search market, according to surveys.

Baidu already operates its own directory-style page, Hao123.com, which it acquired in 2004. Google's new Navigation service appears to be extremely similar to Hao123; in fact the positioning of the main sections is identical.

Update March 22: Another probable reason for Google to try a simplified search first in China is that typing Chinese is more complex than typing alphabetic languages like English. Users have to type multiple keystrokes to form a single character, and there are several totally different input systems in common use.  (Thanks to user Joe Consumer for pointing out this omission - see his comment below)

Unbelievable! Are people so stupid?

Unbelievable! Are people so stupid?

I think you need to get out a bit more

I think you need to get out a bit more. Do you realize 90% of the world functions fine without the Internet? Some people can't use Google, some people can't change a tire, some people can't cook, some people can't fix a dripping faucet - probably YOU are one of those people.

They're not stupid

What do you mean about

What do you mean about "stupid"?
Do you think they are "stupid"?

Yeah, I think theyre stupid

Yeah, I think theyre stupid
Is there another word for it?

Now It's Stupid To Save Time?

'Theyre' not stupid. Didn't you ever just type a website name, like Yahoo, into the Google box because it's quicker to find it that way? This saves you the trouble.

This is just like a page of bookmarks. Nothing stupid about that.

Not everyone's been using the internet 12 hours a day since they were 4 years old!

I'm dumb enough for Google

I'm not joking, I'd like this

It's pretty interesting to

It's pretty interesting to see the page after being translated by translate.google.com

It's not confusion or stupidity

Typing in Chinese is difficult, even if you do know Chinese.

5,000+ characters in common daily use, and a keyboard made for 26-letter alphabets. How would you type? Not sure? It's not simple. Even if you speak Chinese, maybe you speak a dialect that doesn't easily map to the roman alphabet pinyin writing system easily typed on a keyboard. There are many ways of typing Chinese characters on a western-style keyboard, but that doesn't mean that everyone knows how to do it.

It's a bit surprising the reporter who wrote the story overlooked this explanation.

typing in chinese

if you dont know english letters you cant type chinese. lets say you want to type "li mu bai" you type "li" instantly a list of characters appear, numered in a drop down menu. you then hit the # of the character that you want. 里木拜。so typing in chinese can be just as fast if not faster. since common words are all about 3-5 key strokes.

I think Google is making fun

I think Google is making fun of the Chinese.

People, please stop pandering to the weak

If you cannot understand how to use Google, you probably shouldn't even have a computer. To all the people who bought a computer "for e-mail and the internet": YOU are partially responsible for damaging OUR community...the computer/tech people were having loads of fun before the ignorant masses decided that 'computers aren't just for smart people anymore'...

Besides, forget Google AND their corporate greed. It's kind of funny though to think that Google's AdWords will eventually almost single-handedly destroy most search engines (including their own). How many times have you clicked on a search result only to be dumped on a page full of AdWords? Or, better yet, another search engine that has indexed Google's own results and now points back to the same link you JUST clicked? F'IN CLASSIC!!!

try working tech support

Get a job working tech support for any major computer or internet company. You'll soon realize that there are a LOT of people out there who are lucky that they are able to dress themselves, let alone do a Google search. These people (inexplicably!) have money too.

How weird

Google are not stupid, there is a reason for them to invent this solution and if the feedback demands it, then why not? Its all about the service

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