We have all become accustomed to a rather quaint interface for Web search. No matter which major search engine you use, you get a big list of text links on a page, and clicking a link opens a new window with the search results. Is there a better way? The new search engine Snap reminds us that there is.
You still enter a search field in a box on the start page (or in a downloadable toolbar), and you still get a list of results on the next page. The big difference is that Snap gives you a nice big preview of each result in a results pane. In Internet Explorer, if you download the Snap plug-in, you can see the live sites in the preview. The big advantage of this interface is that you don't have to navigate away from your results while you check each one out. It makes using search a lot more efficient.
Snap is not the first service with an alternative interface to search--nor is it even the first company to apply its fundamental user interface tenets. There is a search sidebar feature built in to Internet Explorer that gives you a similar experience. Snap does look better, though, and it loads the previews much more quickly. Snap will also attempt to fill in your search result as you type. This is pitched as a breakthrough feature, although if you use a Google toolbar in your browser you've probably already seen something very much like it.
Snap has different ranking algorithms than the other engines, based on how users interact with the results. I can't yet tell if this makes a fundamental difference in result relevance.
So, Snap is not revolutionary. But it is very nice, especially the live preview interface. I have no idea why the other search engines don't offer this, at least as an option. I suspect they will soon.
There's a lot of interesting activity in search right now. Google's recently added Notebook has a feature that I'm finding more useful that I thought I would when I first covered the service: you can bookmark sites directly from the search results pages. I'd like to see a similar feature in Snap. I'd like to see a lot more innovation in Snap, in fact. It is a very nice interface to search. But it's not yet far enough ahead of the current Big Search engines to become the next Big Search engine.
(Note: CNET formerly ran a Web site called Snap. The company no longer has any financial interest in the domain or the service and was not involved in the development of the current Snap.)