SES Toronto 2010 Live Blogging: Opening Keynote

Opening Keynote: Peter Morville – SES 2010

OK well we are back at SES for the fourth consecutive year and starting things off with the conference welcome and opening keynote by Peter Morville, President of Semantic Studios.

Peter’s has a background in library informational sciences which allowed him to help libraries solve their many technical problems throughout the years.

Peter starts things off by talking about search being a process of learning where you go from entering keywords into the search field to filtering through the results, then finding what you are looking for (hopefully).

Search is a complex adaptive system which starts by:

  1. Understanding the users (vocabulary, behaviors, purpose…)
  2. Designing the search engine interface and making it functional for users.
  3. Search needs to support the features, technology and algorithm that we want to deliver the best results.
  4. Search then needs to allow users to narrow and filter their results to find exactly what they are looking for.

Principles of design

Search needs an obsessive amount of detail in design and a lot can be taken from traditional marketing methods and implemented in a web format. It is always best to start simple and then constantly add new features and functionalities. Google maps for example started out by displaying geographic areas and road maps to help guide you to where you want to go. Nowadays, Google Maps not only can help get you to where you want to go but also show you what types of establishments are situated around the location you are looking into.

We should always be designing a website/application based on context (example: mobile search) to try and give users the best experience. In mobile search it is very important that your application takes into users using the app on a bumpy bus and should be functional enough that they do not get frustrated and close the application.

Search Behavior patterns

  • Ability to narrow and filter search results.
  • Ability to take a step backward and look at the bigger picture.

When building a search tool, it is very important to develop an engine that is sophisticated enough for an expert user and easy for a beginner to navigate through as well.

Auto complete helps users become more efficient on their computers or mobile phones to get a better web experience – Google (shows you drop down suggestions as you enter your search query) – Yahoo does the same plus auto suggest.

Since click through rates are highest for the top 3 search engine positions (43% of clicks in #1, 15% #2, 10% #3, 5% the rest of the first page listings) marketers must constantly make sure to get their clients or personal sites onto the first page and especially in the top 3! Optimizers need to do their best to not only rank in first page but to also do the best job to keep the users interested in your website once inside.

Like how Google uses Page Rank, Flickr uses an interestingness factor based on social data. Social data is very important to get the best results to the top of the page on many vertical websites so you don’t get unrelated listings on the first page. Social media will help search engines deliver better results to its users and reduce the amount of irrelevant listings (ie – “little lame prince” novel showing up above the famous “little prince” novel on some ecommerce search platforms)

Faceted navigation allows users to search the way they are used to. Display results in the center and left sidebar contains many filtering options to help the user find what they are looking for at a quicker pace. NCSU library was one of the first to adopt faceted navigation and has been adopted by many sites and are continuing to push the envelope to generate better results for its users.
Redefining search

We can make a lot of progress in search by making incremental steps forward to helping users.

It’s really amazing the way that mobile search/apps are changing the internet landscape. For example: Amazon has an app titled “Amazon remembers” where you can scan any bar code and it will automatically display the product on Amazon so you can read reviews or perhaps purchase the product through them instead.

Experience maps are also helping to change the internet landscape by showing users what activities/services are available within their area to help them decide what to do – stay home vs. going out – and how difficult (distance + other factors) it would be to get there.

Conclusion – 3 things we need to do to make search better

  1. Need to pay obsessive attention to detail
  2. See the big picture, look ahead and embrace new ideas
  3. Re-framing the problem and innovating along the way

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