Some Web users are reporting seeing a reformatted Google results page that has the links to specialized search pages listed in the left-hand column instead of placed horizontally across the top of the search box.
In addition, these links to the image, groups, news, Froogle and local search pages are each accompanied by a horizontal bar graph with a gray background and a green fill.
Google.com's minimalistic and uncluttered look is famous for its simplicity and effectiveness, and has been emulated by many other Web sites. The design went against the grain as Google gained popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the favored model was the significantly more cluttered home pages of portals such as Yahoo Inc.'s Yahoo.com.
Throughout the years, Google has evolved in many ways, broadening its scope beyond search and becoming a Wall Street darling, but Google.com's design has remained sparse. The company recently introduced a personalized home page service that lets users customize Google.com with things like RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, news headlines and weather information. But if Google revamps its home page in this manner for all users, it would be a significant change, akin in the online world to The Coca-Cola Co. changing the original formula for its Coke soda drink.
Matthew Amster-Burton, a freelance writer based in Seattle, doesn't use the personalized home page service, but since Tuesday he has been getting the Google.com version with the specialized search links on the left-hand column. The reformatted page appears after a user does a search. "I'm definitely not averse to the new page but I don't understand what the graphs are telling me yet," he said on Wednesday. He hasn't found a way to access the regular Google.com page.
An IDG News Service reporter based in New York also got this version of Google.com on Tuesday night, but only when using the Firefox browser, not when using Internet Explorer.
Amster-Burton uses the Firefox 1.5 browser on an Apple Computer Inc. Macintosh desktop. Initially he thought the bar graphs might indicate the query's raw volume of results in the specialized searches. But one of his queries yielded thousands of results on the news search and millions of results in the groups search, yet the news search bar graph was longer than the groups search bar graph, he said.
Unsure of what exactly the bar graphs are indicating -- a ratio of hits per total pages, a degree of relevance or some undefined algorithmic measurement -- he feels they are, for now, more clutter than useful, he said. They are handy only when they remain totally gray, indicating the query returned no search results in a specific search service, he said.
He has posted a screenshot of the Google.com page he is getting at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mamster/91052794/
There, one can see that three other links have been moved to the left-hand column:
-- the "more" link, which takes users to a page with lists of additional Google services and tools and which typically is placed along the top of the search box with the horizontal list of specialized search links;
-- and the links for "advanced search" and "preferences," which normally live next to the "search" button.
Google didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.
(Stacy Cowley in New York contributed to this story.)