Google’s AI-powered Search Generative Experience is getting a big new feature: images and video. If you’ve enabled the AI-based SGE feature in Search Labs, you’ll now start to see more multimedia in the colorful summary box at the top of your search results. Google’s also working on making that summary box appear faster and adding more context to the links it puts in the box.
SGE may still be in the “experiment” phase, but it’s very clearly the future of Google Search. “It really gives us a chance to, now, not always be constrained in the way search was working before,” CEO Sundar Pichai said on Alphabet’s most recent earnings call. “It allows us to think outside the box.” He then said that “over time, this will just be how search works.”
The SGE takeover raises huge, thorny questions about the very future of the web, but it’s also just a tricky product to get right. Google is no longer simply trying to find good links for you every time you search — it’s trying to synthesize and generate relevant, true, helpful information. Video in particular could go a long way here: Google has integrated YouTube more and more into search results over the years, linking to a specific chapter or moment inside a video that might help you with that “why is my dryer making that noise” query.
Surfacing and contextualizing links is also still going to be crucial for Google if SGE is going to work. It’s now going to display publish dates next to the three articles in the summary box in an effort to “help you better understand how recent the information is from these web pages,” Google said in a blog post announcing the new features. 9to5Google also noticed Google experimenting with adding in-line links to the AI summary, though so far, that appears to have just been a test. Finding the right balance between giving you the information you were looking for and helping you find it yourself — and all the implications of both those outcomes — is forever one of the hardest problems within Google Search.
Making SGE faster is also going to take Google a while. All these large language model-based tools, from SGE and Bing to ChatGPT and Bard, take a few seconds to generate answers to your questions, and in the world of search, every millisecond matters. In June, Google said it had cut the loading time in half — though I’ve been using SGE for a few months, and I can’t say I’ve noticed a big difference before and after. SGE is still too slow. It’s always the last thing to load on the page by a wide margin.
Still, I’ve been consistently impressed with how useful SGE is in my searches. It’s particularly handy for all the “where should I go” and “what should I watch” types of questions, where there’s no right answer but I’m just looking for ideas and options. Armed with more sources, more media, and more context, SGE might start to usurp the 10 blue links even further.