Friday, October 20, 2006

Long Tails and Short Queries

Search behavior - an interview with Amanda Spink ...

"Amanda Spink is one of the smartest people working on user behavior while using web search, yet when I mentioned her name to a friend who’s spent the last year working on the search user experience, he had never heard of her. The design community is woefully undereducated about search, and is often prone to redesigning Google and postulating what Yahoo! is doing wrong, rather than working to understand why search engines have chosen to do what they do. I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising, though, considering Spink’s work is more often seen in scholarly journals, such as New Directions in Human Information Behavior and Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (brought to you by the same folks who bring you the IA Summit, yet rarely cracked by the working folks).

In order to help correct this problem, I shyly contacted my hero by email, and overcame the time difference between sunny California and even sunnier Brisbane, Australia, with a series of email questions.

Christina Wodtke: When I joined Yahoo!, I had never worked on search before. Your article, “From E-Sex to E-Commerce: How Search Changes” was one of the most valuable in beginning to get my mind around the problem of search. Since reading that article, however, I haven’t seen much change from your findings. In your opinion, are users changing their search behavior, or are they still following the same patterns you found when you analyzed Excite’s data?

Amanda Spink: You make a good observation. Since 1997, our findings have come from analyzing large-scale web user data gathered from commercial web companies, including Excite, Ask Jeeves,, Alta Vista, Vivisimo, and Dogpile. Our research since 1997 shows some trends and changing patterns in general searching. However, looking at more recent data from Vivisimo and Dogpile, most web queries are still short—2 to 3 terms, and sessions include little query modification and are generally 2-3 queries in length.

Few people use advanced search features, and many queries include spelling and other mistakes that adversely affect the search results. People look at only a few result pages—not beyond the first or second results pages.

A small number of terms are used with high frequency, and many terms are used once. Web queries are very diverse in topic and some, such as people’s names, are unique."    (Continued via Boxes and Arrows)    [Usability Resources]


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