Okay, so the website is up, I started blogging, and I’m promoting my blog on Twitter, which again updates my Facebook status. I connect with interesting and like-minded people on LinkedIn, who all spend too much time online connecting with interesting and like-minded people on LinkedIn, just like I do. Now, in the interest of further self-promotion and personal development, what more can I do to increase my web presence?
I want to write an e-book about search user experience, based on some of my latest blog posts (and all the great discussions they have sparked). I started writing this summer, and that is partly why blogging has been a bit slow for me. I hope to get the e-book done in a few weeks time. Meanwhile, I would like to give you a little LOOK INSIDE! the text I have titled 4 Kinds of Search User Experience.
The text should have some real-world use cases as examples of the 4 kinds of search user experience. E-commerce is a good, but obvious example of Diligent Search. Please leave a comment if you want to make a suggestion.
Chapter Outline – 4 Kinds of Search User Experience
The Search User Experience Manifesto
Search is about more than fast algorithms, beautiful code and large indexes. Relevance is in the eye of the beholder, and user experience design is the ultimate frontier. I believe that design transcends technology, and that a well-designed (and possibly low-tech) enterprise search provides a better return on investment for businesses aiming to provide employees or customers with the best possible information access.
A Model of Search User Experience
Part of my job as an information architect is to correctly align user needs and business goals with available technology and resources. A poor choice of technologies or design patterns may very well cripple the entire user experience. We’ll see how 4 kinds and 2 characteristics help us understand the particular strengths and weaknesses of various search concepts and technologies, as well as their applicability to real-world use cases.
Kind 1: Plain Search
The Plain Search experience is well-suited for known-item search, where information needs are easily resolved with basic query/response behavior. Sometimes all you have are a few keywords, and a ranked best-first list of 10 blue web page links is just what you need. Less can be more, but expect difficulties with precision/recall trade-offs and ambiguous queries, as well as excessive query re-formulation if the user is unsuccessful at completing the search task.
Kind 2: Superficial Search
The wisdom of the crowds is something of a holy grail, and tapping into the behavioral patterns of millions of users have brought fame and fortune to Amazon and YouTube, and recently also to Twitter. Recommendations and real-time search leverages user behavior to feel the pulse of communities, and to surface popular and current material, even as events unfold. Superficial Search is very efficient when you don’t need to dig deep into the information space, but it’s vulnerable to feedback loops and other kinds of popularity bias.
Kind 3: Ingenious Search
The Ingenious Search experience improves upon the weaknesses of Plain Search with a model-knows-best approach. Like rubbing on Aladdin’s lamp, sophisticated algorithms automatically disambiguate query intent and extract semantic structures from content. Direct answers are provided instead of documents in an attempt to increase precision. Clever algorithms can be said to be cost effective, but they’re comparably more difficult to implement and execute well. Also be aware of awkward query formulation and high expectations on behalf of the user.
Kind 4: Diligent Search
It’s sometimes easier to ask than to guess. Diligent Search regards the human intellect as a better judge of relevance, and empowers users to increase precision by refining both query and content themselves. Faceted search, a common feature on modern e-commerce sites, enables efficient exploration of the information space (shopping) by assisting users in iteratively expressing their information needs. Choice is great, but don’t get carried away. Having too many options can be paralyzing and counter-productive for the user.
I expect some readers to disapprove of how I have grouped, named and described search-related concepts and technologies in this text. That’s alright, and I’ll try to meet you half-way by reproducing and commenting on some of the constructive feedback and criticism I have received already from engaged and enlightened readers.
This is a collection of blogs, books, e-books and pattern libraries I find useful in my work with search user experience. I hope it may serve you just as well.