A Google feature to find health-specific information is making sporadic appearances on the Internet, suggesting the facet's full-scale launch is imminent.
Typically, Google unleashes a new feature first by making it available to a limited geographic area for testing purposes, followed by a general release. It appears the feature is well into its testing phase, given the number of sightings.
A Google spokesperson confirmed tests are underway. "We have been doing a variety of research in the health area, including how to improve the quality of health-realted search results," the spokeperson wrote in an e-mail. "We have nothing new to announce at this time."
Google Health is just one of dozens of new, topic-specific search options Google's expected to be introducing in the future, in its never-ending bid to best rivals Yahoo and Microsoft with new features or services.
The goal of all the tinkering at Google, as well as at Yahoo, Microsoft's MSN search, Ask.com and other Internet search providers, is to gain a larger share of the $13.8 billion being spent on online advertising this year.
Creating new features that resonate with consumers, in theory, increases the number of Internet search queries, which then translates into more search engine revenues. That's because each firm sells advertising alongside search results, and gets paid whenever a consumer clicks on the ads. So the larger the audience, the higher the probability someone will actually click on the ad.
Google Health is an example of how search engines are seeking a bigger slice of the ad pie by focusing on the quality of their results, rather than, as in the past, the number of Web sites they search.
For Google, that means opening up its "onebox," which is a search technology to create mini-search engines that are located atop Google search results. So far there are Google oneboxes for travel needs, musical interests and now, apparently, health considerations.