There is growing interest in using Ajax with search.

Google is experimenting with it at Microsoft are using it on Windows Live Search and Amazon are using Ajax on A9. Eurekster are using Ajax to allow users to change the search results on Swikis and Snap are using it to display search suggestions.

Ajax technology allows the search engines to send and receive information in the background and display the new information without refreshing the page. This allows features such as infinite scrolling, where more results are fetched in the background and added to the existing results, either when you get close to the bottom or when you click to see the next page. You can also fetch more information about results when you mouse over them or click on a portion of them. For example Ask do this, mouse over the binoculars icon on their search results and they show a screen shot of the page.

We first looked at this type of technology back in 2000. Back then we were using Flash rather than Ajax (the project was called Gordon – we thought it would save every one of us), but the concept was the same. The Flash code would render the search results and make requests to the server for more information. This would enable features such as continuous scrolling and showing additional information when you moused over a search result or a search suggestion. We even had search results and suggestions flying in and out of the page as you did different searches.

We found that it was fairly easy to create these cool features but they added little, if anything to the search experience for the end user. There is quite a lot of risk in creating non-standard user interfaces. The main risk is that too many people won’t understand what’s happening and the search experience will be degraded. Microsoft’s Live search did have infinite scrolling when it was in beta but it is no longer there. I think the real opportunity here is not to create new user interfaces for the search results but rather to speed things up by not having to refresh the whole page and potentially by making subtle improvements to the existing user interface.

It will be interesting to see whether any Ajax powered features will become common place in site search. This is one area we will be keeping a close eye on.