March 2008 Archives

Will Evans: Interview

I talked with Will Evans about Search Patterns. As an information architect and interaction designer, he's designed search for such sites as Kayak and Gather.

Will is an amazing source of insight and examples. He's already contributed to the pattern library but was willing to share more, including Volkswagen UK (faceted navigation), and the Encyclopedia of Life (taxonomy visualization).

Will noted we must look beyond our immediate disciplines and vocabularies for sources of innovation. In that spirit, he recommends the following:

Will is now with CrowdSprout, a startup that will aggregate supply and demand by using the power of social networking and e-commerce. In other words, it's a search system that helps buyers and sellers find deals. Good luck Will!

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Jason Blackwell: Interview

I talked with Jason Blackwell about Search Patterns. Jason, a user experience specialist at IBM, has led an enterprise social search project that uses bookmark and tag data from Dogear to improve search and social networking.

The team wanted to keep the main intranet search results (official data) front and center while offering social data as an extra feature. The initial design adopted the Google model with filter tabs for each content type (e.g., blogs, wikis, forums, news, people). But users didn't visit the tabs very often.

The new design adopted the Ask model with a customizable sidebar (to the right of results) that by default presents three preview results for each content type. Click-throughs skyrocketed. A nice example of how seemingly small design details can make a big difference. Other highlights (notes not quotes) include:

  • We review the top 300 queries (which account for 30-40% of all searches each week) and manually adjust the Best Bets as necessary.
  • Tags and bookmarks impact the ranking of the main search results.
  • We may add personalization and narrow/broaden capabilities.

Jason noted that designers no longer own the search user experience. At IBM, folks use Greasemonkey to add new sources to the sidebar. And, on the Web, StumbleUpon injects social data into Google results. By providing APIs and RSS feeds, we can open search to support further customization and innovation.

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My favorite contribution to Search Patterns this week is WineM.


Here's an excerpt from last year's press release:

The smart wine rack uses radio frequency identification (RFID) to track individual bottles in the rack and identifies ones that fit the users' wine selection criteria. Collectors and restaurants can use WineM racks to search collections, track specific bottles, update information about wine in real time, and manage inventory visually...the wine in a collection can now be dynamically reorganized by any combination of year, region, price, or any other information axis that interests the collector or sommelier.

A handheld device accepts queries, and full-color LED lights transform the elegant wine rack and the bottles themselves into a search results interface. The system even supports faceted navigation. Very cool!

Strange Connections

I'm happy my disturbing hole has wormed its way into the minds of futurists.

If you're coming to the IA Summit in Miami, please consider the IA Institute's Leadership Seminar. An important topic and some great speakers!

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Keith Instone: Interview

I talked with Keith Instone about Search Patterns. Keith is a lead information architect at IBM where he's working with the UX and IT teams on the next generation of search for Here are some highlights (notes not quotes):

  • One goal is to make search more contextual. Where is the user when they start to search? We can deliver context-sensitive results. But what if our educated guess is wrong? We must let the user drill down or go sideways.
  • We're conceiving of search as a separate space with unique layout and navigation for result pages.
  • Simply defining a shared vocabulary is a challenge. What's the difference between a filter and a facet? Filters are visible (e.g., link, tab, checkbox) whereas facets are conceptual and "behind the scenes."
  • The user interface is not the biggest challenge. First, search is a massive IT project. Given millions of documents, it's not easy to index all and only the right stuff efficiently. Second, getting the content tagged with high-quality metadata (e.g., language, part numbers) is difficult in such a decentralized organization.
  • While search is a project, it's also a process. We employ a mix of tools and methods (e.g., the search elsewhere test) to solicit feedback and drive continuous improvement.

Keith predicted that trying to make site search work as well as web search will remain an ongoing challenge. This made me wonder whether it would ever make sense for Google to license domain-specific PageRank data as an input into site search algorithms. Probably not, since Data is the Intel Inside, but it's an interesting idea. Thanks Keith for a thought-provoking conversation!

Strange Connections

The Externalities of Search 2.0 by Michael Zimmer examines privacy threats emerging where search meets Web 2.0.

Charles Knight has posted a list of the Top 100 Alternative Search Engines. Be sure to try them all.

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