Thursday, January 06, 2005

Search is not Search

A while back Dare and I were talking about a blog entry of his. I was reminded of that conversation today, when catching up on a recent-ish publication from MIT's Haystack team: The Perfect Search Engine is Not Enough: A Study of Orienteering Behavior in Directed Search. One of the main points of the paper is that people tend not to use 'search' (think Google), even when they have enough information for search to likely be useful. Often they will instead go to a know location from which they believe they can find the information they are looking for.

For me the classic example is searching for music. While I tend to store my mp3s in a consistent directory structure such that the song's filename is the actual name of the song, I almost never use a generic directory search to find a song. I tend to think of songs as "song name: Conga Fury, band: Juno Reactor", or something like that, so when I'm looking for Conga Fury, I am more likely to walk the album subdirectories under my Juno Reactor directory, than I am to search for file "Conga Fury.mp3". The above paper talks a bit about why, and I think another key aspect that they don't mention is that search via navigation leverages our brain's innate fuzzy computation abilities. I may not remember how to spell "Conga Fury" or may think that it was "Conga Furvor", but by navigating to my solution, such inaccuracies are easily dealt with.

On the other hand, one of the problems that plagues me when searching for obscure information is that there are often many ways to refer to a concept. Which one will get me the information I want? Worse, I find that my mind often gets stuck on one particular form and simple variants just don't occur to me. When navigating to locate information, I have many opportunities to adjust my search strategy as I go, factoring in input acquired as I navigate. Navigation better leverages both the computer's and my own abilities.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

navigation is fine if you actually know where the road is leading. Unknown roads, unknown vehicles, unfamiliar traffic signs - sounds like a job for a search engine to me.

5:57 PM  

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