Top three usability problems

Hourglass
My goal for SearchMash is to get people using it as their regular search page, the way I do, by helping them find useful results more quickly, and find more of them. My firm belief is that searching can be improved, and that people will use a better search interface, and this project is a way of proving that.

I want to convert more of my visitors into regular users, and I believe there are three crucial problems I need to solve to do that:

Loading Speed

Especially on PC’s, the Java engine can take several seconds to load up, which adds a big delay to seeing your search results. There’s nothing I can do to speed up that startup time, but I could try and display something useful while it is loading, such as the plain Google search results for that query. I’ve filed a feature request with the Sourceforge system to track my work on this; Display useful information during Java loading.

The Back Button Doesn’t Work

Since I’m writing HTM directly into existing frames, rather than changing their location, the browser’s history doesn’t get updated when you got to a new page of search results within the site, and so hitting ‘back’ takes you to the page before SearchMash, rather than going through the pages of searh results. This is a surprisingly tricky thing to get working because different browsers behave differently, and you have to use subtle tricks like hidden iframe location changes to put changes into the history without actually reloading the page. This is in Sourceforge as Make page changes work with history.

Toolbar Search With Internet Explorer

The Firefox search extension is one of the most popular ways to access SearchMash. IE7 now supports a different standard, OpenSearch, but that allows similar functionality, with a few nice extras. One cool addition is that you can advertise your search engine through a link in the of your page’s HTML, and it will automatically show up in the search box for users to try out. I’ve got Write search plugin for IE 7 tracking my work on this one.

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