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Google thrives on speed

November 10, 2006

Marisa Meyer of Google gave a short, but extremely smart talk at Web 2.0 conference about the most significant thing that the company has learned its short history.

The answer was speed and this was an insight that came from consumer research experiments in search page design, where Google was looking to understand the optimal number of search results on a page.

In the test, they discovered that those in the control group with 10 results stayed longer than those who asked 30 results. Marisa wondered why? People asked for more, but they didn’t like what they got, so they left.

Were they giving them too much?

When they dug further into the data, they uncovered the problem; the control group’s search, which displayed 10 results, took .4 of a second vs. those getting 30 results, took .9.

This was the moment that Google discovered the power of speed.

Today, Google allows users to do a search that touches anywhere from 300-700 machines before it comes back to you in .05 of a second.

Most web companies want to keep people on the page, they want it to be “sticky”, Google prefers that people spend less time, but do it more frequently. The cumulative volume is what builds the traffic and this comes from the consumer’s positive experience on the site.

Why do people want speed?

Meyer hypothesized that speed appeals because it generates a steeper learning curve. She used the example of the power of instant feedback in digital photography that helps the user learn quickly and become a better photographers.

She also highlighted an example of failure. In the early incarnation of Google Video it did not deliver on the promise of speed. Viewing videos was fine, but it took 24-48 hours to upload a video, perhaps this was one the major reasons behind the growth and popularity of YouTube.

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