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Jul 09, 2007: Usability of search: research?

Avi Rappoport, search guru, maintainer of SearchTools.com, and Friend of Lou, asks:

I'm putting together a talk on "Good Practices for Search UI" for the Enterprise Search Summit West (November 6-7 in San Jose), and am having a hard time finding any actual search usability research. Have you done any work on the topic lately? Do you know who might be in this field and available to participate?

I'm looking for really practical work, such as whether users get disconcerted by very large results numbers, how long the match words in context should be, how to display zone-limited search and whether to revert to universal search after a zone, how to display Search Suggestions (Best Bets) separate from or included with organic search results, and so on.

It's a great question. Any ideas for Avi?

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Comment: Peter Boersma (Jul 10, 2007)

Lou and Avi,

You may want to try and contact the UCD group at Elsevier Science. I have worked with their group in Amsterdam in the past and I know they regularly conduct user research in this area.

Old-timer Jeff Lash (hi Jeff!) may be your way in, or let me know if you need a local contact.

Comment: Avi Rappoport (Jul 10, 2007)

Thanks Peter, I don't know Jeff so would very much appreciate your introduction!


Comment: Guy Sangwine (Jul 10, 2007)

Hi Avi, Lou

I have been through a similar process of gathering research when deliberating on an improved design for a University search engine. I was not able to find a great deal of recent published research involving actual users, but there are a couple of eyetracking studies on search design that I found useful.

You would make me very happy if you could report back on any useful research you find in this area.


"What are you looking for?: an eye-tracking study of information usage in web search" by Edward Cutrell, Zhiwei Guan. Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems CHI '07. April 2007.

Evaluating the Usability of Search Forms Using Eyetracking: A Practical Approach" By Matteo Penzo. Accessed from http://www.uxmatters.com/MT/archives/000068.php. Jan 2006.

Comment: Victor Lombardi (Jul 20, 2007)

Christina Wodtke did quite a bit of this from her time at Yahoo. If you contact her directly I bet she would be willing to help out.

Comment: Avi Rappoport (Aug 13, 2007)

Sorry to take so much time, Guy, but I did find that paper you linked to, and will try to move outwards from there.

And I promise to report what I find -- research is best when shared.


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