Where’d my results go? Google Search’s chatbot is no longer opt-in


Google's generative search results turn the normally stark-white results page into a range of pastels.
Enlarge / Google’s generative search results turn the normally stark-white results page into a range of pastels.

Google

Last year Google brought its new obsession with AI-powered chatbots to Google Search with the launch of the “Search Generative Experience,” or “SGE.” If you opted in, SGE intercepted your Google search queries and put a giant, screen-filling generative AI chatbot response at the top of your search results. The usual 10 blue links were still there, but you had to scroll past Google’s ChatGPT clone to see them. That design choice makes outgoing web links seem like a legacy escape hatch for when the chatbot doesn’t work, and Google wants to know why more people haven’t opted in to this.

Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Land reports that Google is going to start pushing SGE out to some users, even if they haven’t opted in to the “Labs experiment.” A Google spokesperson told the site SGE will be turned on for a “subset of queries, on a small percentage of search traffic in the US.” The report says “Google told us they want to get feedback from searchers who have not opted into SGE specifically. This way they can get feedback and learn how a more general population will find this technology helpful.

Citing his conversation with Google, Schwartz says some users automatically see Chatbot results for queries where Google thinks a chatbot “can be especially helpful.” Google will turn on the feature for “queries that are often more complex or involve questions where it may be helpful to get information from a range of web pages—like ‘how do I get marks off painted walls.'”

I don’t think anyone has spotted one of these non-opt-in SGE pages in the wild yet, so it’s unclear what the presentation will be. As an opt-in, SGE has a huge explanation page of how your search results will change. The chatbot is easily Google Search’s biggest format change ever, and having that happen automatically would be awfully confusing!

It’s also unclear if you can opt out of this. Today SGE is not compatible with Firefox, so that might be one way to skip Google’s AI obsession for now. Google Search has recently undergone a big leadership shuffle, with Liz Reid taking over as the new head of Search. Reid previously led—wait for it—the SGE team, so the prevailing theory is that we’re going to get way more AI stuff in search going forward.



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