How Fast is Fast Enough? The Case of Google Instant

Posted on September 19, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

How fast is fast enough?  Google changed the game when it create a new kind of search back in the late 1990s.  We were all immediately drawn to the ability to instantly search the Internet and Google quickly became our engine of choice.  Fast forward to 2010…and they have made search even faster.   I didn’t realize it had an official name, but recently, while surfing the net I came across a feature called Google Instant.

It’s the enhancement to Google search that shows you possible searches as you type in the actual search terms you seek.  You may have noticed it when you do a Google search.

The interesting point is why Google did this.  Quoting from their website:

Our key technical insight was that people type slowly, but read quickly, typically taking 300 milliseconds between keystrokes, but only 30 milliseconds (a tenth of the time!) to glance at another part of the page. This means that you can scan a results page while you type.

By seeing results as you are typing, Google claims, you don’t have to finish typing the item at all…just enough to trigger the search you want.  In addition, you will perform better searches because you’ll have instant feedback on the possible searches, and you can adapt instantly as you type, rather than performing a search and learning that you picked the wrong terms or possibly too broad a term.  The Google Instant page shared a graph showing just how much faster search can be.  It’s reproduced here.

While I like this new feature, and I find it helpful to see some possible searches while I type in my preferred search term, I wonder if there is a limit to how instant something needs to be.  Some have postulated that the speed of thought is as fast as (or maybe faster than) the speed of light. In fact at Intel, a research project called the Human Brain Project seeks ways to transmit thoughts directly to computers, which might make search even faster.   But do we need a search function that fast?  Or is it enough to have something ‘fast enough’?

From my doctoral studies many years ago, I recall studying the concept of bounded rationality, postulated by Carnegie Mellon scientist Herb Simon, where the decision making capability of an individual was limited, in part, to the cognitive capabilities of the mind.  That would imply that there is a cut-off of sorts as to how instant something really needs to be.

I’m wondering….do you find Google Instant a useful enhancement?  Does it perceivably speed up your searches? What does this mean for businesses building processes that respond instantly?  Is there a limit as to how fast they have to be to satisfy those waiting on them?  How fast is fast enough?

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