The way forward for search

Search

Most of the focus on improving search is around the algorithms for producing the results. Even this article asking Is Search Broken? mentions that the holy grail is producing the right result with a single click.

I think that’s rubbish, for a few big reasons:

  • Most of my searches aren’t for one perfect page. There’s a lot of different types of searches. Usually there’s a set of pages that will each either answer my question fully on their own, will answer the question when read together, or will help me refine my search.
  • Search terms don’t provide enough information. There’s plenty of techniques to infer extra information from things known about the user, but they’re all guesses. In my experience, they can really get in the way since they can’t read minds, and block out results they think I’m not interested in. With the inherent fuzziness of search results, what’s really needed is a better way for me to do the final winnowing, interactively.
  • I don’t always know what I’m looking for! Often, I’m using search results as a way to learn more about a general area, or get an idea of what’s out there so I can focus my thinking. Since I don’t have a specific goal in mind, there is no single right answer.

Machine-powered algorithms are necessary, but once they’re good enough, they start giving you diminishing returns. What’s missing is support for the final user-powered step of rapidly sorting and eyeballing those search results. There’s a workflow that we all go through when searching, that involves clicking on a link, scrolling down through the page, clicking back, hunting for the next interesting link in the results. It makes no sense that there’s no good tools to speed up this process.

Google Hot Keys
is a start for addressing this, but there’s so much more that could be done. I want a visual representation of my search results that I can truly browse through, like an OS X dock full of pages. I want to be able to eliminate a page, and have all similar pages disappear from my results. I want context menus. I want my search results page to be easily accessible, even visible, as I browse through pages I’ve found. I want to be able to focus on pages that are in my browser history, or are linked to ones in my history, since I’ve implicitly voted those as trustworthy to me. I want to know which pages people clicked on most, and spent most time on.

Funhouse Photo User Count: 731 total, 86 active. Much the same story as yesterday, I want to make some changes to freshen it up, but I won’t have time for at least a few days.

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