The rise of universal search and real time results is, imho creating a crowded, confusing search results page.
No question that the smart folks at Google have tested performance and determined that mixing information results from Wikipedia, with shopping, with video, with images as well as the sponsored listings creates a better user experience than offering all of one type. Since people don't use the "news", "image", "video", etc links to do a more targeted search the "web" search results now offer a snippet of each type for many ambiguous searches.
Take the following search on "Les Paul" as an example.
Neither Google, nor God knows whether I'm really interested in biographical information about the man, music he performed, or the guitar that bears his name, so the web SERP contains a hodge-podge of potentially responsive web pages.
The trouble is: I don't get many options within each of those types. The engines can only show a small sample of each type because space is limited.
But is there a better way?
Probably not, I have to believe that someone much smarter than me would have made this work if it was truly viable, but I still can't get my mind off of it. It seems to me that finding what people want would be greatly expedited by simply asking for clarification when appropriate. And, it seems to me engines looking to knock Google off its perch may need to offer a truly different user experience if they're going to gain traction.
For example, instead of just a "go" button, why not ask users to guide the search a bit?
This also sets up intriguing possibilities for the sponsor listings. Online retailers would be happy to pay more for folks who clicked the "Online Stores" go button than any of the others. Local brick and mortar businesses and national chains might be willing to pay more for folks who clicked the "Local Business" or even the "information" go button. Indeed, one might wonder whether the engines would need to serve anything other than sponsored links for folks who have identified themselves as shopping for products or services.
By filtering out some of the traffic we don't want and segmenting bids by the quality of traffic obtained through each, efficiencies would improve leading to more advertising spend at the same ROI by each of those constituencies.
This could potentially be a win for all parties concerned including the user who gets more relevant results because the engine offer the courtesy of asking what type of results they wanted.
The more prominently placed "Anything" button might be the dominant choice of lazy users who can't be bothered to read the choices, but I wouldn't be surprised if a fair chunk of folks preferred to have these options.
Granted, I should never never never be allowed to do graphical design under any circumstances, but it does seem like someone more talented than I might find a user-friendly way to help us all better predict what people really seek when they type something in a search box.
Am I totally crazy?