A Strategic Approach to Search

The other week I attended ”From business to buttons” a yearly conference about usability and ‘designing for effect’ held in Malmö. Maria from Findwise was there to talk about ‘search driven design – or why can’t or intranet be more like Google?’, while I had the privilege to walk around talking to attendees about search.

The conference gathered people from a broad range of industries such as telecom, banking, retail etc, but what struck me the most was that no matter how different their business was, their challenges when it came to Enterprise Search where like peas in a pod. The employees just want to find the information they need to do their job in an efficient way. Preferably by typing a simple keyword and get accurate results in a Google-stylish way. Many companies have made investments in Enterprise Search platforms, hoping that this will magically increase findability.

Back at the office I got hold of a new study on Findability, made by Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM). The survey shows that out of 500 businesses 49% of survey respondents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that it is a difficult and time consuming process to find the information they need to do their job. Furthermore the study suggests that “the fault does not lie with technology solution providers; rather, most organizations have failed to take a strategic approach to enterprise search: 49% of respondents report having “No Formal Goal” for enterprise Findability within their organizations”.

Findability survey

When looking at current Findwise customers one realizes that the success stories are all based on the same objective reason: the strategic approach, which has been focusing their business and end-users, looking at the technological investment as an enabler rather than a solution. The research paper from AIIM will be presented in a webinar on June 26:th, which I believe can be interesting. However, apart from establishing the fact that your company is facing the same challenges as everyone else, feel free to ask us how other companies have been using a strategic approach within this area; so you can use that knowledge to enhance your own solution.

Importance of Interaction Design

Lately I’ve been working in a couple of projects involving big companies which has given me a lot of new experience and knowledge. One of the things I’ve realized is how important it is to have a good interaction design and how that is not always the case.

The common thing in these projects have been that the customer has already started a new IT project. As time comes to implement the search functionality, they contact us. Thus, involvement from our side is after the interaction design has been made.

Since the customers are big companies, the interaction design has been made by external consultants who usually have a long going relationship with our customer, but don’t have a great knowledge about search. When the implementation starts, we’ve discovered that the interaction design is not perfect in terms of giving the end users a great search experience. This is due to lack of knowledge about search technology and what can be made with it. Using my knowledge in the search area I can propose changes in functionality that will give a better user experience. These changes of course requires new interaction design, but since the interaction design consultants has finished their assignment, the interaction design decisions needs to be worked out by our company.

In the worst case scenario this means that the complete interaction design needs to be redone from scratch. This will not be popular for the customer which needs to pay for the same thing twice. However since we at Findwise are search experts with lots of experience from past project and dedicated people working with interaction design we know how to create a good interaction design for search.

In the end this means that the customer is happy with the end result, but hiring us to also do the interaction design would have resulted in less cost for the customer!

Microsoft is Opening its Wallet for Search

Three weeks after making a $1.2 billion bid for FAST search & Transfer Microsoft announces that they make a $44.6 billion offer to buy Yahoo. So far it‘s only an offer which Yahoo’s board and stockholders are considering but, to conclude, Microsoft is serious about going into strategic search markets.

Web search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, are making really good money from online advertising such as contextual ads when searching, banners etc. This market is, according to analyst firms such as Yankee group, predicted to double over the next four years giving somewhere between $40- $50.3 billion in revenue.
Google is still a leader within this field, but it seems as if the competition is getting tougher.

Apart from web search there has also been a lot of talk about mobile search, a new emerging market where Yahoo last year made an acquisition of TellMe, a hosted speech applications company. Since this purchase Yahoo has done development for using its online advertising platform Panama for local mobile search and services as well.

If the offer is accepted Microsoft will have a strong portfolio, reaching from critical enterprise search with FAST technology and consumer focused search with Yahoo.
(An interesting perspective is the historical background where FAST developed AlltheWeb, one of the most popular and sophisticated internet search engines in the beginning of 21:st century, which in 2003 was sold to Overture and later bought by Yahoo.)

If the future holds a merger of advanced search technologies remains to be seen, but we will probably see some really interesting development within this field the forthcoming year.
What is your opinion? Can this affect Google’s position as a leader within web search? And more importantly, how do you think Microsoft’s purchases will affect the market for search in general?

How Many Users Can You Afford to Annoy?

The second keynote at the Human Computer Interaction conference in Lancaster was given by Jared Spool who talked about Breaking through the invisible walls of usability research. Jared is a very inspiring and entertaining speaker. If you have the chance to listen to him, take it!

One of the things he talked about was the fact that the usability techniques that are widely used today were in fact not designed for large amounts of users. We have all kinds of data about the users’ behaviors online, but can we really use that data in a productive way? As Jared said;

“there is a big difference between data and information, we don’t know what inferences to make from the data we have.”

He also gave examples from a couple of large american ecommerce sites that have millions of users every day. With traditional usability measures you, according to Jacob Nielsens report, can identify 80% of the usability problems with as few as five users. But if you have one million customers, then you could say that 200.000 of the customers would be annoyed. Imagine how much money’s worth of lost revenue 200.000 users is. So how many nines to we need? (90, 99, 99,999?) How many percent is enough? It is apparent that we need to find methods that can solve these problems with usability evalutations and testing.

Jared Spool visualizes how few users actually spend money on an ecommerce site, and how few users the company relies on for their revenue.

Jared also talked about the consequences that web 2.0 have had for web applications and communities. He talked about what things that make people want to use “extra functionality”, as for example review functionality; what things delight people. Things that are excitement generators today soon come to be expected in every application. And when, as Jared said, HCI becomes HHHHHCI; when social networks are widely used, things that delight us or aggravate us, spread very fast. So instead of thinking about the five user rule, think about this next time you plan a release of a new product or application: How many users can you afford to annoy?