The simple search box and the rich texture of suggestion

stiglitz.pngI have been in a couple of meetings recently where people have been talking about the attraction of the simple, single box search as the ultimate goal. To this, my response is 'yes, and what else?'. In Google's case, pagerank has been the principal 'what else'. Going forward they have interesting questions to face about how to rank materials which do not fit the web-page model. The improvement of search, and the improvement of ad placement, are a major focus for them, as indicated in the much discussed Google analyst day presentation [pdf]. A simple box is one part only of their formula: good results and good ads are necessary for them.

Interestingly, in Amazon's cases their results are their advertizing. Each result represents a potential purchase. This is one reason that it is useful for them to make APIs to their results available. And it is one reason that their presentation strategy is to offer a rich texture of suggestion on their results pages. You are hit with many hints about potential items of interest, and this data is created in multiple ways (mobilizing the edge of reader contributions, mining the 'intentional' data from user purchase and browse patterns, mining the text of books). An Amazon page has many 'suggestions', using a variety of approaches.

I think we will see more 'simple search' but supported by smart results and rich browse. Whenever somebody says that people need a simple single box to search, try asking 'yes, and what else?'.

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Comments: 3

Mar 13, 2006
Rafael Sidi

Lorcan, how about "search without a box" concept and leveraging faceted searching or guided navigation technologies like NCSU and other online search products (www.emgineeringvillage2.org) are doing with single search box?

Mar 13, 2006
Andy Havens

The difference between Google and Yahoo reminds me a bit of the difference, in terms of experience design, between fast food joints and high-end, expensive, "sit down" restaurants.

McDonald's type locations want you in-and-out as quickly as possible; their economic model is based on high throughput. Thus, the color scheme, the seating, the lighting -- everything about the experience is geared towards "fast." Bright colors, for example, encourage quick eating.

High-end eateries, however, are often much more relaxed placed; quiet atmosphere, toned-down color palettes, mellow music, slower service. Why? Because the highest margin is on desserts, coffee and drinks, and those are the items that are purchased and re-purchased during long stays. The experience guides the economic behavior.

To me, Google vs. Amazon seems similar to that, in a way. Google is very much "get off our page as quickly as possible." It's "smooth" as opposed to "sticky." Because they make their money on click-throughs, obviously. The longer you stay on Google's page, the fewer times you click through to advertisers' sites. So anything beyond the "white box" will be a distraction... something to keep you "sitting there."

Amazon, on the other hand, wants you to sit there... to browse. Because the longer you stay, the more likely it is that you'll add something to your wish list, write a review, or buy something.

What continues to astound me is the number of companies whose Web sites seem to use the Google design model (smooth vs. sticky), but whose business model clearly needs to encourage on-site buying behavior. Why be so "sparse" if you want folks to kick back and stay for awhile?

Mar 13, 2006
Lorcan Dempsey

Rafael,

Yes .. maybe I was being too cryptic. I was suggesting that 'rich browse' was also important, maybe after an initial search. By rich browse I mean some of what you are saying.