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Intelligent Machines

Google Makes Web Pages Load Instantly

The Chrome browser will soon silently fetch pages as you scan search results so that they load without delay.

Google is ready to make waiting for Web pages to load a thing of the past—at least for those pages found using its search engine and the company’s Chrome browser. As a user peruses the list of results returned in response to a query, the browser will fetch and load in the background the page it considers most relevant. If a person does click that result, the page will load instantaneously.

Need for speed: Amit Singhal, Google’s head of search ranking, announces Instant Search at an event in San Francisco.

The new feature, called Instant Pages, will appear in Chrome and Google’s mobile browsers in “coming weeks” but can be experienced today in the developer version of the browser, or later this week in the beta version (the Chrome browser is automatically updated). A video showing the new feature in action has been posted on YouTube.

“We all have broadband, but loading a Web page is still nothing like flipping channels on your TV,” said Amit Singhal, Google’s head of search ranking, when he announced the new feature today at an event in San Francisco. “We will not be happy until loading a page is as fast as flipping pages in a magazine.”

A year ago, Google introduced Instant Search, which loads results live as a person types into the search box. Google studies show that by reducing the time it takes to enter a query, the feature shaves two to five seconds from most searches, said Singhal. He added that Instant Pages could shorten the process of searching for and loading a Web page by a further five seconds.

The company wanted to improve the search experience but realized that speeding up its servers would have negligible effect, Singhal explained. When Google receives a search query, it takes on average about 300 milliseconds to calculate the results and another 400 to send them back to the user’s computer. However, it typically takes a person 15 seconds to decide which result to click on and a further five to load a typical Web page.

“In cases where we are confident which result you will select, we are folding the five seconds into the 15 seconds,” said Singhal. When Instant Pages algorithms predict with sufficient confidence the most relevant result, they instruct the browser to start downloading and loading that page in the background right away. Users looking at the search results won’t notice anything new unless they click the result that was preloaded—in which case it will appear instantly. The feature currently only preloads a single page, said Singhal, although it may include other pages in future.

Other Web browsers could also employ Instant Pages, because Google has released the necessary code for all to use. “We are opening up the code because we want other browsers to implement it—it is good for the users and for the Web,” said Singhal.

Other browsers have already implemented a similar feature known as pre-fetching. This, however, downloads just the main body of a Web page, while Google’s preloading technology fetches every object on a page and renders it ready for display, even running the JavaScript needed to run sophisticated Web apps, said Peter Linsley, a product manager for Google search.

As the same event, Google announced that users would soon be able to enter search queries on laptops and desktops via speech, a feature previously introduced for use on phones and tablets.

Another forthcoming feature will make it possible to drag an image into the search box instead of entering text. Google’s machine-vision technology will analyze the image to find Web pages with images of the same thing. A demo of this feature showed how a decade-old holiday snap could be used to discover the name of the place in Greece where it was taken.

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