For all the promise of search, and all the billions of net worth the industry has created, I will say this: functionally, search has not improved dramatically since the days of AltaVista. It’s not that we aren’t able to search more stuff, we are. It’s not that they haven’t become more clever at how they sort and prioritize the initial results, they have. And it’s most certainly not a problem that limited to Google, or MSN Live Search, or Yahoo. The problem is usability – the ability to narrow the results you’ve already got is neither easy or intuitive. It’s the same as it’s ever been – fine tune your results manually in the search text box, as though you’re manipulating a command line.
What that means to the user is that 95% or more of the people that use search are limited to the words they enter in the text box for the search, and those folks will rarely if ever dig deeper into the results than the first page. When you’re talking about words that have multilple and diverse meanings, the chance is, they will not get pertinent results.
So where is the “Refine My Search” link, or the ability to select results to include/exclude to help narrow the target? Why am I limited to going back and putting quotes around some words, and using the (-)minus sign to exclude. Why does the DL.TV podcast have to spend two segments with one of the Google guys to explain in depth search techniques? Heck, search has been around for so long that if we need to have it *explained* to the tech savvy, the rest of the users are hopeless.
I want to bake a pie. I like to make my pies with Apples. In fact, I prefer Macintosh apples. Actually, I like the variety from Washington. So I have a search of macintosh apples washington – expect if you click on that link, you’ll see there are *none* of the results I want. So I add an exclusion for the word “computer“. Now it’s getting better, at least in Google. I have a pair of results that are in the ballpark on the first page, finally. In Live Search, it’s about the same. Now I add a fruit includer (+ fruit) and I get mostly the correct resuts.
Question: why the heck don’t they give user a way to refine their results? Do you really expect everyone in the world is going to learn to use your search the way you want them to use it or should you perhaps adapt to the way they *will* expect to use it? ANd for the record, search mavens have been using that example for 10 years…it’s a classic and it still works.
The next step for search has got to be to make it something your Grandmother could use. That implies it’s got to be easy, and you’ve got to be able to narrow your results. Google, Yahoo, MSN, you’ve got billions…spend a little time improving your product! Make search adaptive!