All About Website Usability Blog – Holly Phillips


Trends in Search (from Peter Morville’s UIE webinar)
January 13, 2010, 4:53 am
Filed under: customer-centered-design, Search

Peter Morville and Mark Burrell just gave a webinar in one of Jared Spool’s UIE webinars. Topic: Search and Discovery Patterns.

The premise is that good Search is critical to a website, and using pre-existing design patterns can really help Search be successful. Nothing new in that premise — anyone who uses the web knows how critical Search is, and how frustrating it is when it doesn’t work as expected. But they did give some good examples of new uses of Search. Here are some of the highlights:

  • “Search is iterative and interactive, what we find changes what we seek” – Interesting concept, and helps explain why people’s expectations change as new search methodologies come onto the scene.
  • “Browsing does not scale” – meaning that at some point, listing the navigation topics becomes unwieldy. Not sure I totally agree with this. If done well, you can index a pretty deep site with browsing navigation in a very usable way. (And, as a colleague points out, some might say that “Search does not scale” at some point — especially if you have a wide variety of types of search results.)
  • ” ‘Best first’ is one of the primary search patterns, and is the key to Google’s success” – Can’t argue with that! His point is that the algorithms to determine relevance are extermemly important, and including “social data” can help immensely. (Social data, or social search, involves paying attention to what other searchers think are successful results for a particular search and then using that information in the relevance algorithm.)
  • “Faceted navigation lets people begin the way they normally do, by entering a search term. But then it gives users a custom map for their search term, and gives them a simple next step” – This is key – so many websites have pages that just dump the customer onto them and have no clear next step. Examples given are Yelp, NCSU Libraries, Land’s End, Buzzillions, Amazon. One of the key aspects of Faceted Navigation is that it blurs the line between search and browse – in Land’s End, for example, you can browse down into the site but still see a faceted navigation display on the left side of each page.
  • “We’re finding ways to take the search interaction beyond just search” – example is Songza, which gives search results on the same page as allowing you to actually play the songs.
  • “We must keep questioning how we define search, how we define the problem” – This was, in my mind, the best part of the presentation. They showed several examples of non-traditional uses of Search. For example: Maybe the box is really a place to ask questions, and we should strive to return answers and not results (wolfram). Or maybe search is about helping people to make better decisions (hunch). Or maybe it’s all about understanding and interactive visual results (oakland crimespotting). Or finding similar images (gazopa). Or searching by singing (iPhone music search). “In the future of search, it’s critical that we consider the user experience across channels” – For example, with the iPhone, the search must work on the phone itself, in the iTunes app, and in the iTunes store. Search needs to allow users to move fluidly across those platforms.
  • “Getting search right requires a microscope, a telescope, and a kaleidascope” – A microscope to really dig into the details, understand the search logs, and ensure individual searches are relevant. A telescope to see the big picture and how search fits with navigation, other channels, and trends on the web. And a kaleidascope to see things differently and see how search is a part of many different things.
  • “Search is a hybrid between design, engineering, and marketing. It’s a project and a process, and the problem is never solved” – This is a great quote and a great reminder that the job is never done. Providing great search results requires constant ongoing review of search logs, external trends, refinement using social data, etc.

My next post will summarize the second half of this webinar, led by Mark Burrell of Endeca.

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