In that piece, I wondered whether Google opted to launch the sandbox, which you can access here, because of Facebook's moves.
Matt Cutts, one of the Google engineers behind the new search infrastructure, said this was not the case in a Q&A on his personal blog last night:
He said the new infrastructure has been in the works for months, adding: "I think the best way for Google to do well in search is to continue what we've done for the last decade or so: focus relentlessly on pushing our search quality forward."
I'm positive the search was in the news for months, but I also believe announcing this at 4:14 PDT on a Monday afternoon is not the way you announce a major rewrite of your bread-and-butter business -- unless you want to attract some of the attention rivals are getting over their search improvements.
I'm not going to let that ruin some potentially fun search testing, but I also took to heart Cutts' comment that there won't be user interface or design changes:
"This update is primarily under the hood: we're rewriting the foundation of some of our infrastructure. But some of the search results do change, so we wanted to open up a preview so that power searchers and web developers could give us feedback."
So I didn't get my hopes up to see anything special. I first searched for Twitter. In the current search engine, I saw:
Here's what it looked like in the sandbox:
There practically no difference. Unlike the current search, there was no sponsored link from Microsoft's Bing search engine at the top of the results. I also couldn't comment or promote items in the sandbox. I could get used to the lack of advertising!
I then tried searching for Wikipedia. Here is where I saw some differences. First, the original search stuck a bit:
Then I searched Wikipedia in the sandbox. Not only was the retrieval time one second faster, but there was foreign language results! Fascinating (to me, anyway), though I'm no Webmaster or power searcher.
However, the foreign language results replaced the hot topics on Wikipedia, such as Michael Jackson.
Google Operating System noted the sandbox doesn't deal well with proxies and redirects, "so you'll see many weird results."
I could sit here for hours testing the nuances, but time doesn't permit. So, I'd like to open up the floor to crowdsource the Caffeine searches.
I encourage readers to test different searches in the sandbox and compare them to the same searches in the current version of Google search, then tell me what you think.
Also, feel free to provide Google feedback by clicking at the "Dissatisfied? Help us improve" link at the bottom of the page. Be sure to include "caffeine" in your reply to Google.
Finally, don't try this on mobile phones because it won't compute. Cutts said he has not hooked up a mobile version or an international version.
Read more about the search sandbox on TechMeme here.