Shallow Thoughts : tags : google

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 09 Oct 2011

Disable Google's Instant mode, and Instant Previews

A group of us were commiserating about that widely-reviled feature, Google Instant. That's the thing that refreshes your Google search page while you're still typing, so you always feel like you have to type reallyreallyfasttofinishyourquerybeforeitupdates. Google lets you turn off Instant -- but only if you let them set and remember your cookies, meaning they can also track you across the web. Isn't there a more privacy-preserving way to get a simple Google page that doesn't constantly change as you change your search query?

Disable Instant

It turns out there is. Just add complete=0 to your search queries.

How do you do that? Well, in Firefox, I search in the normal URL bar. No need for a separate search field taking up space in the browser window; any time you type multiple terms (or a space followed by a single term) in Firefox's URLbar, it appends your terms to whatever you have set as the keyword.URL preference.

So go to about:config and search for keyword, then double-click on keyword.URL and make sure it's something like "". Or if you want to make sure it won't be overridden, find your Firefox profile, edit user.js (create it if you don't have one already), and add a line like:

user_pref("keyword.URL", "");

Show only pages matching the search terms

I use a slightly longer query, myself:

user_pref("keyword.URL", ""

Adding allintext: as the first word in any search query tells Google not to show pages that don't have the search terms as part of the page. You might think this would be the default ... but The Google Works in Mysterious Ways and it is Not Ours to Question.

Disable Instant Previews

Finally, just recently Google has changed their search page again to add a bunch of crap down the right side of the page which, if you accidentally mouse on it, loads a miniature preview of the page over on your sidebar. You have to be very careful with your mouse not to have stuff you might not be interested in popping up all the time.

A moment's work with Firebug gave me the CSS classes I needed to hide. Edit chrome/userContent.css in your Firefox profile (create it if you don't already have one) and add this rule:

/* Turn off the "instant preview" annoying buttons in google search results */
.vspib, .vspii { display: none !important; }

Really, it's a darn shame that Google has gone from its origins as a clean, simple website to something like Facebook with things popping up all over that users have to bend over backward to disable. But that seems to be the way of the web. Good thing browsers are configurable!

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[ 21:31 Oct 09, 2011    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Tue, 16 Aug 2011

Fixing broken highlighting in Google search bar

Google has been doing a horrible UI experiment with me recently involving its search field.

I search for something -- fine, I get a normal search page page. At the top of the page is a text field with my search terms, like this: [normal-looking google search bar]

Now suppose I want to modify my search. Suppose I double-click the word "ui", or drag my mouse across it to select it, perhaps intending to replace it with something else. Here's what happens: [messed up selection in google search bar]

Whoops! It highlighted something other than what I clicked, changed the font size of the highlighted text and moved it. Now I have no idea what I'm modifying.

This started happening several weeks ago (at about the same time they made Instant Seach mandatory -- yuck). It only happens on one of my machines, so I can only assume they're running one of their little UI experiments with me, but clearing google cookies (or even banning cookies from Google) didn't help. Blacklisting Google from javascript cures it, but then I can't use Google Maps or other services.

For a week or so, I tried using other search engines. Someone pointed me to Duck Duck Go, which isn't bad for general searches. But when it gets to technical searches, or elaborate searches with OR and - operators, google's search really is better. Except for, you know, minor details like not being able to edit your search terms.

But finally it occurred to me to try firebug. Maybe I could find out why the font size was getting changed. Indeed, a little poking around with firebug showed a suspicious-looking rule on the search field:

.gsfi, .lst {
    font: 17px arial,sans-serif;
and disabling that made highlighting work again.

So to fix it permanently, I added the following to chrome/userContent.css in my Firefox profile directory:

.gsfi, .lst {
  font-family: inherit !important;
  font-size: inherit !important;

And now I can select text again! At least until the next time Google changes the rule and I have to go back to Firebug to chase it down all over again.

Note to Google UI testers:

No, it does not make search easier to use to change the font size in the middle of someone's edits. It just drives the victim away to try other search engines.

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[ 21:05 Aug 16, 2011    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Tue, 24 Nov 2009

Google UI Guinea Pigs

[alternate google logo] A friend wanted help figuring out why suddenly she was seeing a different Google page -- one with a logo that was less 3-dimensional, no drop shadow, and the search text field was in difficult-to-read colors. It was only on one machine, and nobody else she knew was seeing this new page. Was this some sort of Firefox bug? Did I know how she could get back to the old, easier to read Google page?

Fortunately she knew about Firefox's "View page info" menu item (right-click on the page to get it) and used the Media tab there to discover that the logo she was seeing was:

Asking around and googling for things like google logo change or google different search page got me nowhere. It wasn't anything to do with disabling cookies or Javascript -- I tried turning those both off but still didn't see the page she saw (though turning off JS did get rid of the annoying fade-in effect Google started using recently).

Running out of ideas, I Googled for the filename of the logo she was seeing: google logo "logo1w.png" and that turned out to be the answer. I found discussions on reddit and NeoGAF, which led me to articles on SE Roundtable and search Engine Land comparing Google's UI to jazz (you never know what you're going to get next).

Following links eventually led me to an article on the official Googlblog, explaining how Google chooses random users as guinea pigs for trying out new user interfaces.

Unfortunately, none of these articles gave a clue how my friend could opt out of being a guinea pig and get back to a page where the search box colors didn't hurt her eyes.

But it turned out that it's cookie based. So if you find yourself stuck with a Google test page you don't like: Delete all your Google cookies. That did the trick for my friend, and got her back the standard interface.

The Googleblog article (which is full of interesting facts, as Googleblog articles often are) also led me to suggest another tip to her. Apparently a lot of this UI testing is based on how long it takes users to type their query into the search bar. So if you get selected as a test subject and you really dislike the UI they're showing you, typing very slowly might be a way to make it clear that this UI is not working out for you.

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[ 15:03 Nov 24, 2009    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | comments ]

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