Google searches shopping sites with Froogle

Search engine company Google Inc. is testing an online shopping price comparison service, Froogle, and has introduced beta versions of two other search tools, Google Webquotes and Google Viewer.

Froogle, a play on the word frugal, searches online stores selling products matching the terms searched for, and returns a list of matching items with their prices, photographs and a link to the store. The site does not accept payment for placement, and will search the inventory of any store willing to provide data in an appropriate format, according to a statement on the Web site at http://www.froogle.com.

Until all the bugs are ironed out, Froogle will only search English-language stores pricing goods in U.S. dollars, but future versions will search sites in other languages and using other currencies, the company said.

The other two services being tested offer enhancements to the interface of Google's general-purpose search engine, and can be found on the Web site of Google's research and development department, http://labs.google.com/.

In addition to the usual results of a search, Google Webquotes returns, for each site found, comments about that site from a number of other sites. For example, when searching for the word "Google" the first result returned is www.google.com. This entry is accompanied by three comments about that site taken from pages at searchenginewatch.com, howstuffworks.com and useit.com. The number of comments returned can be selected for each search. Google says this service allows users to get a third-party opinion on sites they are searching for, giving more information about a site's credibility.

Google Viewer offers a slide show of search results. At the top of the browser window, a tool bar allows users to set the speed at which the slide show progresses, step forward and backward through the search results, or return to the beginning. Under this is Google's summary of the search result currently being displayed, while a large frame at the bottom of the screen displays, in turn, each Web site matching the search terms. The Web sites are not cached in advance, so if the slide show runs too fast, pages will not finish (or even start) loading before Viewer moves on to the next one.

Google Viewer is not the first search engine to offer previews of search results, although others have taken different approaches. Vivisimo.com groups search results by common terms; by clicking on these terms, users thin out the results until only one is left, which is then displayed in a frame on Vivisimo's Web page. On the other hand, each search result at Wisenut.com is accompanied by a "sneak a peek" link, which opens up a small frame showing what the result page looks like.

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