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Should Google Be Feeling More Lucky?

Published: July 22, 2007

Author: David Rodnitzky

I bet that 99.9% of the people reading this blog a) use Google at least five times a day and b) haven’t used the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button for at least a year.

And yet, that button still takes up a lot of space on Google’s homepage. I know for a fact that Google does a lot of usability testing on their homepage, so I’m going to assume that there are still denizens of users who find this button to be a differentiating feature for Google.

But I suspect that this button remains on the page despite whether users really like it or not. Why? Well, two reasons. First, “I’m Feeling Lucky” still gives people a warm-fuzzy feeling about Google. It’s the sort of non-corporate approach that endeared Google to the masses in the first place. Take away “I’m Feeling Lucky” and I am sure that many critics would declare this the final transition from happy-go-lucky start-up to full-blown corporation.

Second, the raison d’etre of “I’m Feeling Lucky” was the idea that Google could take you to directly what you wanted without searching at all. Take the button away and Google has conceded defeat – we actually can’t get you to where you want to go with one click.

Of course, it’s not really in Google’s financial interest to do so. Consider what would happen to Google’s revenue if users started to use “I’m Feeling Lucky” more than the regular search results. All of those AdWords clicks that occur when a user browses SERPs would be gone.

Idealist that I am, I still believe that the concept behind “I’m Feeling Lucky” will ultimately be achieved, most likely through a combination of personalization and collaborative filtering. As search engines (or social media engines) learn more and more about specific users, is there really a need to display 10 results on a page (much less a message that states that the search
engine found more than a million results relevant to the user query)?

Not really, in my opinion. As I wrote way back in February 2006, someday I’d expect search engines to “know” so much about you that “I’m Feeling Lucky” would be just the beginning. For example, I wrote about a hypothetical search experiences in which:

When you type in “los angeles travel”, it takes you directly to the Web site with the best travel deals for you to Los Angeles. Heck, depending on the information you have provided or the system has gleaned from you, it might even know the dates of your travel, your departure location, your preferred method of traveling, frequent flyer numbers, travel companions, credit card information, and whether you need a car, hotel, a kennel for your dog, and some new luggage. All you need to do is review the price of your trip, click submit and voila you’re off to LA!

For the foreseeable future, it seems like “I’m Feeling Lucky” will remain a (mostly ignored) part of Google users’ everyday experience. The time will come, however, when – whether through Google or another technology – users start to realize that being lucky is a lot easier than searching through reams of results. No more SERPS? That will be an interesting day for us all.

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