It was the kind of detail that only experts in Web traffic analysis could love, but a technical change Google is making turns out to reveal something a lot more people care about: faster search results.
"These guys are working hard to make things milliseconds faster. They're always experimenting," Bencuya said.
A few thousandths of a second--trivial, right? Wrong. Google found that shaving a smidgen off the time it takes to show results means that people search more often, and more searches means more opportunities to show search ads.
To provide fast results, Google already uses 700 to 1,000 servers to field each query, so a little speed-up on the browser side of the process can be a relatively cheap way to get an edge.
OK, then, how did this all come to light? On the Google Analytics blog Tuesday, team member Brett Crosby announced a change Google plans to make to the "referrer" code that it passes on to a Web site when somebody clicks a link in the search result.
Those who use their own Web analytics software to observe how their search ads are performing--such as tracking when a Google search sent visitors to their Web site, and what they were searching for when they did--will need to update their software to accommodate the change.
It's an arcane tweak, to be sure, but Alex Chitu of the unofficial Google Operating System blog put the pieces together on Wednesday, guessing that the change had to do with how Google presented its search engine results page.
Bencuya confirmed on Wednesday that the referrer change was indeed motivated by the need to fix the experiment's unintended side effect.
"We made this change so we can continue experimenting with different kinds of test results and not break links in the future," Bencuya said.
He wouldn't comment on plans to bring the Ajax change to a broader set of users.