Hacking Google: Retro Links Revives Old Google Feature

Google sometimes turns off features. One such feature that I remember fondly is that at the bottom of Google’s search results, we offered nine other search engine suggestions. The idea was if you didn’t find what you were searching for on Google, you could click on the other links and easily run the same search somewhere else. Luckily, due to an April Fool’s joke about the Mentalplex, you can still see what these links looked like:

Other search engines in 2000

Many of these search engines consolidated or changed focus over time. Plus I’m guessing that every search engine in the world wanted to be on the list, which must have been really annoying for whichever Google person had to maintain that list of links. I think the list of other search engines dwindled down and eventually Google just turned the feature off.

Recently I was describing this feature to Tiffany Lane, another engineer at Google, and she had a great idea. Why not recreate this search feature on Google with modern search engines and websites? Because of the pain of maintaining an “official” list, we probably couldn’t turn this on for every user (plus not every user wants a lot of extra links added to their search results). But why not provide a completely unofficial option that people could install?

Thus was born Retro Links, which is a Greasemonkey script to add new search options to Google’s search results page. When Retro Links is installed, it looks like this:

Retro Links

Unlike the original feature, Retro Links lets you select which search engines to show from 42 different websites and search engines, then saves those preferences. It’s also very easy to add a new search engine in the JavaScript file.

Installation

Get Retro Links here: http://www.mattcutts.com/retrolinks/retrolinks.user.js

To install Retro Links you will need to be using Firefox and have Greasemonkey installed. Once Greasemonkey is running then you can click on the link above and you will be prompted to install the script. To see that it is working you can do a Google search – the links will be inserted near the bottom of the Google search results page.

Configuration

Configuring Retro Links is really simple. Suppose that you want to change the default Amazon link to search on Yelp. Just click on the [+] link to the right of the search engines and select Yelp from the drop-down box:

Changing search engines in Retro Links

When you’re happy with your search engines, click the “Save” button to save your preferences.

Questions

What if the site I want is not one of the 42 options?
You can add more sites to the options by making a simple code change. To edit the code go to Tools -> Greasemonkey -> Manage User Scripts, select Retro Links and click the Edit button. Simply add the name and url of the new site to the RL_LINK_OPTIONS array, following the examples that are already there.

How do I turn on/off the update notification?
The script checks to see if a newer version is available once per day. If an update is available a red box will appear in the bottom right corner of the page with a link to download the latest version. If you want to stop checking for updates go to Tools -> Greasemonkey -> User Script Commands and select Retro Links -> Never check for updates. To start checking again select Retro Links -> Check for updates daily.

Disclaimer

Finally, Tiffany wanted to make sure that I included this quick disclaimer: “Retro Links is not an official Google project. I chose which links to include based on my personal preferences and web surfing habits. These decisions do not represent the opinions of my employer.” Tiffany, thanks for writing this great script!

34 Responses to Hacking Google: Retro Links Revives Old Google Feature (Leave a comment)

  1. CustomizeGoogle already does this, and very useful it is too.

  2. Itman

    Yep, I just love customize google. Plus, it gives me a link to search in wikipedia, which I use often.

  3. graywolf, we give props to Customize Google and Try This Search On at http://www.mattcutts.com/retrolinks/ . I think one big difference is that this script lets you pick and customize from 42 different search sites. The last time I checked on Customize Google, some of their search sites were a little stale, too.

  4. I’m with Brian and Graywolf on this one Matt.

  5. I was with Graywolf and Barry on that one until I saw what you had to add. It’s worth checking out after all, thanks.

  6. Awesome.

    I rather suspect that Google removed the feature to avoid leaking searchers.

    Just my take on it.

  7. Roofing Guy, I think it turned into a giant hassle to support officially, because lots of sites always wanted in. Making this unofficial takes that pressure away, which is one of the reasons that I’m excited about it..

  8. Matt,

    I’m sure you’re right. But someones got to be the conspiracy voice of truth!

    Just kidding. I was just thinking that if I had a search engine I would wonder about the effects.

    But it is good for the user!

  9. Good question, Roofing Guy. I think it’s a healthy way to keep Google on its toes: “Don’t like our results? Try any of these other fine search engines” :)

  10. himynameis john

    I use to use a plugin for FF that was similar to this, as the guys have described above but I disabled it in the end as it was becoming no for good clutter.

    PS; Still keeping an eye on websites referring browser traffic. This month on one of my sites, Google Chrome is now 2nd! Hmmm, you guys been busy planting this on users PCs? (Just kidding):P Love it for its speed… if I was just a regular surfer, I’d use it all the time, but FF is still a necessity for me. The ability for and to have an extensive addons library like FF is the deal clencher for me. Wait, what was this blog post about again. Eheh..

  11. Sebastian

    are you 2 days early Matt?
    ^^

  12. Surely the link to Deja, owned by Google and now redirecting back to Google, is against some linking policy or other? :)

  13. Dave (original)

    Seems like Google should STILL have this officially if it help their users find what they seek. Seriously.

    I don’t believe for a second that it is too hard for Google to officially maintain this feature, either ;)

  14. Sebastian, no April Fool’s day joke on this one — it’s a real, useful script. :) Robert, this is all JavaScript, so no PageRank is passing.

    himynameis john, glad to hear that Chrome is coming on strong for your website! I’m really looking forward to extensions in Chrome.

  15. It’s a good script indeed, but I wish I could continue searching other engines even when I moved from Google to say Yahoo… Currently I am forced to press ‘back’ button to do so… perhaps maintaining an array for elements to hack on various engines (for Google document.getElementById(‘nav’)) could help.

  16. Jalaj, you might be interested in the Try This Search On script.

  17. Thanks Matt… your early reply saved my time as I had already started tweaking the code. TTSO script does what I was thinking.

    Anyways, I prefer Google for most searches and very rarely checkother search engines.

  18. thanks!

    So can this be considered as “Google stands for quality search approach”? giving its users a possibility to compare search results from other search engines and social networks?

  19. Eddie

    matt, what strikes my curiosity is why you are hosting the script on your site, instead of userscripts.org, and why you dont suggest using this script on chrome via Greasemetal…

  20. This is a very cool script, I like the retro customization feature…

  21. Hey what happened to the Page Rank Toolbar today? Every site is at PR0!!

  22. Hello Matt,

    Retro Links sounds like a good script but Matt, I personally feel no need for it. As I get all the required results in Google Search Results. One option that we see in the picture is of Wikipedia: Google already shows a link to this site in the top few results.

    One use of this script: I check my site for one or two keywords to determine its overall ranking. I check in Google, Yahoo and MSN. But I do that via using Google Toolbar plus in Firefox, I have another search box on the top right corner that let me check in Yahoo and MSN.

    I have set 100 results per page to be shown in Google Search Results, so I guess, Retro Links is not for me.

    Thanks for this info
    Regards

  23. Hey Matt,

    A nice move again for trying something different. Waiting for Google Toolbar, plugins and extensions for Chrome.

  24. Matt,

    In the spirit of the day, I’ve made my own bid for recognition as an architect of modern search, by proposing the indroduction of an ALT LITerary tag for literature that may otherwise go unnoticed in search:

    http://www.fonerbooks.com/2009/04/literary-writers-need-alt-lit-tags.html

    Who knows, maybe we’ll end up on a panel together at some future event:-)

    Morris

  25. Gary

    I tried adding Craigslist.org and eventually was successful, but the default search engine goes to SF. I want to leave it nationwide, which is what I do when searching on Google and then using the additional step of limiting my search to a specific domain. Can anyone help with the proper restriction I should use in my search string for RetroLinks? Thanks.

  26. Gridlock

    “Hmmm, you guys been busy planting this on users PCs?”

    Yes, yes they have – Google have a number of agreements with PC distributors to pre-flash PCs with Toolbar and Chrome, much like the ubiquitous AOL diallers.

  27. Will Google close Googlepages forever or redirect Link only for short Period , reaso i am asking this is that i have hosted my app on googlepages and i hv more then 20 lakh users and i dont wana lose all such users .
    I have mailed many members create toipic but fails to get suitable answer , atlast i am trying with you . hope to get a response from your side.

  28. Hey Matt

    This may be a bit off-topic, but it is the only way I know to express myself to movers and shakers at Google. Obviously, the G ranking systems that value link popularity have created huge industries of linking and blah, blah, blogging. I notice recently that sites which mention a keyword in a blog with a link to another blog which links to another, etc., rank HIGHER than the actual content that matches the keyphrase.

    Isn’t this becoming a house of cards? That is, isn’t the notion of link popularity (to filter and improve the G index) actually diminishing the value of the index? Not to mention stimulating so much inane drivel in all the blogs….

    Personally I am going to continue working on content that is USEFUL, and if people want to link to it, fine. I don’t have the time or inclination to build links or blog.

  29. That was a nice feature. It predated the popular search widget features we have on browsers today.

  30. RE: mike clark, i’m also wondering about link popularity and the evaluation system for in-bound links. Does google have any real human beings evaluating links? Further, i’m wondering if the “type” of website you receive a link from matters? In other words, does google read the code on a website, see its a wordpress blog and automatically filter the link itself as a less valuable link?

  31. What a cool tool. I am going to look into this. i know the post was a year ago, so I hope it is still working.

  32. This is really a neat tool but I hardly ever use any other search engines. I used to compare my rankings on Google, Yahoo, MSN. I kind of gave up on all of the other search engines due to any client I got from the internet always found me on Google.

    Thanks for the option though.

  33. This is a very nice script, I like the retro customization featureā€¦ A nice move again for trying something different.

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