"Experimentation is a very powerful tool, and we use it very widely to test potential changes to search. At any given time, we run anywhere from 50 to 200 experiments on Google sites all over the world," writes Ben Gomes, Distinguished Engineer.
One experiment involves reducing the amount of white space around certain result to make them stand out differently. In another experiment, Google plays with the thickness of certain items on the results pages, such as a "+" symbol.
These are interesting exercises, but the one that really grabbed my attention was the very last one outlined by Gomes.
He writes, "There is a further class of experiments -- the kind that are hard to miss -- which introduces fairly prominent features. Even with these larger features, the goal of experimentation always remains the same: are we adding something that really helps people, or is this just another distraction? So features need to stand on their own feet, without the help of a careful explanation. Part of the goal of an experiment is to understand just how a feature will be used, which might be quite different from what we initially intended."
He shows a mock up of an experimental results page. On the page, you can clearly see how searchers can use arrows that are placed next to the search results to move the results up or down, altering their rank. Users can also add comments to the results. And there also is an "X" next to each result, which suggests the possibility of being able to remove the result from view. Whether or not this type of action would affect the actual Page Rank that is calculated by Google's algorithms is unknown.
Gomes offers few words about this last idea. "At this point, I can't say what we expect from this feature; we're just curious to see how it will be used."
Personally, I don't see how being able to adjust the rank of search results will really help. Those results mean different things to different searchers. Being able to place comments on some of the results is a more interesting idea to me. It could perhaps serve as a way to let other searchers know if the result is useful for certain things.
In any event, Google takes its search results seriously, and is always working at ways to improve them.