Google has actually released a major Google index update before the holiday season. Yes, this is the Google Caffeine index, which has been in a Sandbox (testing environment) since August, is now being rolled out. If you visit the Caffeine URL at www2.sandbox.google.com, you are taken to a thank you page that reads:
We appreciate all the feedback from people who searched on our Caffeine sandbox.
Based on the success we've seen, we believe Caffeine is ready for a larger audience. Soon we will activate Caffeine more widely, beginning with one data center. This sandbox is no longer necessary and has been retired, but we appreciate the testing and positive input that webmasters and publishers have given.
Yes, this is being rolled out slowly, data center by data center. Some of you may already see it, while most of you probably don't yet. The big question is when will this be fully rolled out? Some have been saying they have been seeing Caffeine in the live index already. I am not too sure.
Why in the world would Google do this right before the holiday season? Did Google forget how the Florida update had hurt online retailers right in the most important time of their shopping season? It was devastating to many small webmasters. I assume Google is confident this will have a small impact on businesses and they are confident it won't shuffle things up too much.
Update: Matt Cutts of Google just promised it won't be rolled out until after the holiday season.
I believe Google's goal with Sandbox was more about infrastructure over the quality of those results. Yes, Google wanted to index deeper and faster and smarter, but the ranking of those results, I believe, they wanted to keep stable from the current index. I hope that makes sense to the readers here, i.e. indexing is different than ranking. But indexing does have an impact on what Google ranks, obviously.
The Google Caffeine Sandbox was shut down about a few hours ago. There is early discussion beginning at the various forums. No official blog post from Google, Matt Cutts or anything, except for that Thank You page.