Google's Accessible Search Engine

Enigma website development

Web Accessibility News

This column brings you monthly accessibility news ... but not dynamically, since I must find time to incorporate XML feeds into my skillsets. In the meantime, please tolerate my ineptitude and accept news I scavenge from the Web.

Google's Accessible Search Engine

Google have recently revealed one of their Lab projects, their "Accessible Web Search for the Visually Impaired."


JULY 2006

Google's Accessible Search Engine

On 20 July, 2006, T V Raman, a sightless developer working for Google, explained on his Google Blogspot that Google Accessible Search "looks at a number of signals by examining the HTML markup found on a web page. It tends to favor pages that degrade gracefully — that is, pages with few visual distractions, and pages that are likely to render well with images turned off."

Raman based the initiative on Google's Co-op technology, a resource and markup technique which permits adaption of the engine to improve search relevancy for specialised interests such as destination guides, autos, health and other topics.

The UK's RNIB (Royal National Institute of the Blind) and their American counterpart, the AFB (American Federation for the Blind), both endorse the initiative from the pre-eminent search giant.

Why Not Go Further?

Certainly it is a step in the right direction, not only as an acknowledgement that the visually impaired have a hard time of it on the Web but as recognition that website development leaves a lot to be desired.

My hope is that Google embraces and migrates the technology as a core feature in its main engine. Surely it wouldn't take much to incorporate a checkbox toggle on the main page which actively filters for standards-compliant, accessible sites.

Accessibility is not about catering for those with physical or cognitive impairments but is about improving the overall level of accessibility whether on the Web or the whole of the Internet and, as a result of compliant markup, producing accessible web content in whatever shape or form, be it a web page, site, full blown portal or a scientific treatise shared between learning establishments.

If Google were to reward professional, accessible development with greater recognition through higher SERPs (search engine results pages) visibility the word would quickly get out: make it visible; be visible.

However, Google itself (and its Accessible Search) falls shorts of standards compliance: the code in its core service site and peripheral offerings doesn't pass muster.

There is a fallacious argument which goes along the lines of Google uses markup which is measured in milliseconds to shave valuable moments of delivery time...

That's bull.

The existing dodgy markup has negligible impact on results rendering speed; it's the underlying query engine doing the back-end stuff which makes Google so damn fast, its storage and retrieval algorithms and delivery infrastructure.

The challenge, of course, is if Google were to make accessibility a mainstream search option, the Web would immediately become tiered: those who can and do develop professionally and those hobbyists (and lazy developers) who can't. And perhaps this goes against the spirit of the Web and compromises net neutrality.

Monetising through Accessibility

But Google's intentions may not be entirely altruistic. They've become a marketing behemoth thanks to AdWords, and the opportunity to deliver a viable search engine for impaired users - a multi-billion dollar market segment - makes solid business sense.

I wrote an article in 2004 about increasing revenue through website accessibility.