Search Solutions 2007

I attended Search Solutions 2007

in the BCS

London branch, not far from the cool Convent Garden ‘piazza’. My interest in the user experience of search and information retrieval services is constantly increasing.
In 2006 I started doing a review of groupware and knowledge management software leveraging on community based approaches. Search, filtering and sharing of electronic resources in small and large communities of practice (a`la Wenger

) could be heavily influenced by the appearance of folksonomies, corporate blogs, wikis and other shared repositories.

Few months ago I revisited the classic Information Architecture

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from P. Morville. Peter dedicates an important part of his book to taxonomies and how to structure them. It is an important and vital part of our work and it is our goal to improve the user experience with search engines.

In the last month I became more and more aware of the complexity behind search and information retrieval that plays an important role and weaving user experiences. I was especially fascinated with the story of Sergey Bring and Lawrence Page in building the enduring success of the world’s most famous search engine

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. Google story is a book worth a read (ok, I jumped some of the most boring pages) especially because it makes clear how much the focus on product quality allowed the to Google founders’ to gradually build a vey faithful user base (me included). At the present moment, Google is an important block of the history of web user experience, it is its present (see Street View) and it will eventually be its future. But… are we 100% happy to have one single player to regulate the whole web… not sure about that!

Apart from ‘Big Brother’ concerns, it didn’t seem true to discover a special event on industry of search a few steps away from the office.

By the way, Search Solutions 2007

Enough movie

should soon upload the presentations and even a (vod)podcast… let’s wait and see.

Thomas Hoffman of GoogleGoogle User experience

Thomas Hoffman from Google reviewed a number of features enhancing Google’s user experience.

Spelling check. Who didn’t ever notice the tiny, welcoming phrase ‘Did you mean?’ on top of Google user results? Thomas had fun in showing different misspellings of Britney Spears:

  • Britny Spears
  • Britanny Spears
  • Birthday Spears
  • And so on…

Classic spelling check approaches rely on lexicon/dictionaries (preferred term, synonym rings, etc.) and edit distance. However, web search is often about proper names (person, companies) missing in dictionaries.

Google’s spell checking software automatically looks at your query and checks to see if you are using the most common version of a word’s spelling. If it calculates that you’re likely to generate more relevant search results with an alternative spelling, it will ask “Did you mean: (more common spelling)?”.

Google Spelling check is therefore based on a complex context-based text extraction feature that extracts occurrences of concurrent terms on million of documents and calculates the probability of a spelling error based on it. The result is that spelling checker is in my opinion one of the main killer-features in Google. Think how many non-English speaking users are out there.

Other features
Thomas also cited the specific searches, such as weather search (e.g. try typing Weather London), maps (e.g. try SW12) and the Ticker search (e.g. GOOG). I could cite many more I often use myself, movies, products (former Froogle), etc. A complete list can be found on Google: (

Nick Cox of Yahoo

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Nick Cox (Yahoo Search Europe product manager) delivered a very interesting demo of Yahoo’s Pipes Sex and Death 101 trailer

Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power on dvd The Plainsman movie download . Even if Pipes was not directly related to search user experience, it is a very interesting tool. Pipes is a new way of aggregating, manipulating, customising and presenting information feeds. The visual editor for creating new pipes is very similar to other visual environments such as Visio. Elements can be dragged, dropped onto a canvas and connected each other. An instantaneous preview appears showing the result of the aggregated pipe.

Pipes can be shared, copied and edited by other people. This gives the possibility to non-technically savvy people to create and share new information-retrieval components that can be embedded in web sites and web applications.

I am looking forward to have some time to try to build a few pipes. It seems interesting and maybe I will give it a review soon.

Another interesting product more related to search is Yahoo Alpha (beta). It is a search engine AJAX-based and it allows to build your own personalised search results and it agregates many information sources. Try it yourself.

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