Google Search’s New Look Leaves Room for Answers

Google is now rolling out a new version of search results pages for desktop web browsers. In terms of page layout, it's arguably the biggest change since 2010.

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

If you haven’t already, you may soon notice that Google searches look different.

Google is now rolling out a new version of search results pages for desktop web browsers. In terms of page layout, it’s arguably the biggest change since 2010, when Google added a left-hand sidebar with shortcuts to News, Images and other specialized search types.

That sidebar is now gone, replaced by tabbed search options just above the list of results. Google has also shifted the entire results list over to the left.

What’s with the new look? Two reasons: First, Google says it’s been trying to create a simpler design that’s consistent across phones, tablets and desktop web browsers. A new version of Google search for tablets arrived in July 2011, and Google cleaned up its mobile search website just last month. Although Google has made some aesthetic changes in the last year or so, this is an interface change that brings desktop search in line with tablets and phones.

But more importantly, this is about making room for Google’s Knowledge Graph, a type of search result that provides direct information on certain topics. Search for a movie star, for instance, and you’ll see an info box on the right with the actor’s birth date, picture, relationships, biographical information, filmography and related people. Search for a landmark, and you’ll get details about the site, a map view, an image and related landmarks. The information comes from Wikipedia and other public sources.

Google launched Knowledge Graph in May, but now seems to be giving it more visibility. On Google’s iPhone app, and in Google Now on the newest Android phones, you can ask a question by voice, and a computerized voice will read back information from Knowledge Graph.

Google has also experimented with showing other types of information next to the traditional search results list. In an optional field trial┬áthat’s going on now, users can choose to see results from Gmail on the right side of the screen. It’s easy to imagine Google building one search engine that covers both your personal data and public information–for better or worse.

At the moment, a lot of searches don’t have answers from Knowledge Graph or other sources, so instead you get a conspicuously large amount of white space on the right side of the screen. But if anything, the new design seems like foreshadowing. Knowledge Graph may not provide too many answers now, but Google is leaving plenty of room for it to do so in the future.