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Google, Microsoft testing search interface changes

Google and Microsoft are quietly testing changes to their Web search sites that would enable people to refine searches more quickly and to scroll through results without having to click to go to the next page, respectively. There was no indication whether the changes would become permanent. Microsoft's Windows Live search site is still in beta, while Google's search site is out of beta.

Google is testing a new feature that would let people refine their searches directly on the main search results page. For example, a search using the keywords "boston apartment" displays an option to specify the location, property type and listing type. Clicking on a "Search Housing" button brings up a page with listings that correspond to red pushpins on a Google map. Once the refine options are displayed a user can type in a different city and change the default "boston apartment" settings to see listings in other cities like San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle.

Typing in "chicken recipes" on Google's main search page brings up boxes for people to refine their search under "main ingredient" and "cuisine." Clicking on the "Search Recipes" button then brings up a list of results for recipes fitting those criteria.

Early on Tuesday, a search for "jobs at Google" worked similarly, offering options to refine by location, employer and job function, with locations that correspond to a map. After Google was contacted, the refining option appeared to have been removed.

"Currently, we are experimenting with a new search feature on Google that will enable users to refine their searches using some fields on Google search results pages," Google said in a statement when asked for comment on Tuesday. "The results pages contain both user-submitted and automatically crawled pages and offline and online information found on the Web and Google Base. As always, we are continuously experimenting with innovative ways to connect users to the world's information."

Meanwhile, Microsoft is testing interface changes on its Windows Live beta search site, Michael Arrington reported on his Techcrunch blog.

The new search interface "includes RSS feeds for each search, a much different image search (lots of results thumbnailed) and an 'infinite scroll bar' that continues to refresh as you scroll down through results," he wrote. "But, has unacceptably slow loading times for searches, and the infinite scroll bar is extremely slow as well. So slow it is effectively unusable."

Arrington also writes about a search site interface change Google is testing that involves displaying green bars to the side of search results that indicate the volume of results for that search in Google's different search types, such as Google images, groups, news, Froogle and local. "For the majority of searches, the number of results [in the separate categories] is not important to deciding whether or not to click on the link. All in all, this is a feature that didn't need to be released outside of internal testing before being scrapped or quietly incorporated," he writes.

Google's testing of the green search result bars was first in January.