Tom Chi  


June 16th, 2004 by Tom Chi :: see related comic

Not surprisingly, after just a couple days OK/Cancel dominates searches for the word “tomostan.” Probably more surprising is that we are near the top for a search on “OK.” Of course, very few people search for a word like “OK”, but it’s pretty entertaining to own such a ubiquitous word especially when others are busy fighting over nigritude ultramarine. We are at a curious inflection point in the history of human knowledge. Search is becoming a more and more relevant navigation approach and displacing classical information structures.

6 Responses to “Tomostan”
David Heller wrote:

You said, “Search is becoming a more and more relevant navigation approach and displacing classical information structures.”

It would be interesting to see what other aspects of our lives are being “searched”?

I have been someone who has ofted put search on the back burner of my design priorities. Why? because it seemed counter intuitive to the mental models that have been in place for humans for years. But your point is a striking one and Google has sort changed everything.

2 years ago, I never searched. (Google existed then). What I did instead was just randomly pop in my addressbar URLs that seemed close to my experiences of similarly related items. Why? B/c my odds of getting a better result than any search engine were about even. You could call that a form of searching in and of itself, but w/ too specific an arrow, right? But it is still different than today, when I go to my googlebar almost religiously to do things that I would have never done in the past. Google or Smart Pages … these are my two arenas.

But when I go “shopping” on a site, I still don’t use search unless I know the exact model number, artist name, or product title. Even then I often find that the results I get are not what I want. But again, is this just a temporary phenomena?

Then there is my non-digital life. Do I search in my non-digital life? The closest example I can think of is asking for help, “What aisle are baked goods in?” The result is very similar no? I transport myself to a browseable list of baked goods, scanning for groupings: sugar, flour, frosting, etc. And then scan within the groups, no? The starting point was a search, but it was a taxonomical search, no?

Does this idea of a taxonomical search change anything about the notions of search we might want to bring back into the digital space? Is there something that is changing in the non-digital space because of the googlization of the digital space?

Can anyone give an example where we do “searches” like we would on the web? Is customer service a “search” … to me it isn’t b/c there is so much more added context to the experience of a customer service transaction then I could currently get in doing a search.

What do other people think?

Andrei Sedelnikov wrote:

In my opinion, in most cases the user does not need search, simply because it does not belong to his goals. Instead, we wants to get what he wants to get now.

For example imagine you are in an aiport and you have to get to your gate. If there were no pointers hanging around, you’d have to search. With pointers, you can go directly where you have to be.

So if my computer would be aware, what topics I’m currently interested in, theoretically I can switch it on at morning and it will already have a set of related documents for me.

The search is needed, when you are interested in process rather than in result. For example, when you go shopping your new clothes just to have fun. But even then, it’s not a search any more. It’s something like “browsing”.

David Heller wrote:

Hi Andrei,

Something to add to your list of considerations, is scope. A gate at an airport has a very limited scope. For any given airline even at a major hub there is a pretty limited set of possibilities and the sortability of the set is quite easy to browse through.

What happens when that scope increases in other numbers or in distances between objects or both?

Personally, I do think that filter/browse is much more common in non-digital worlds than “search”, but I was trying to build on Tom’s assertion and see where we can take it.

— dave

Andrei Sedelnikov wrote:

Hi Dave,

You’re right - scope is one of the search attributes. Concerning this, any example from the real world would be limited merely due to its physical nature. In the “digital world”, scopes can truly be unlimited.

I was also thinking about another attributes of the search:

Duration: if the results are available in 0.000001 seconds, is it still ’search’ ?
Vagueness of the result definition: if I know exactly what I want, i.e. “get a telephone number of the local office of my bank in this town” is it also ’search’?
Repetition: Usually to find something requires several “passes”. If we could always find it after first request, should it still be called ’search’?

- Andrei

Kevin Cheng wrote:

You can’t draw parallels to the real world until you’ve defined the digital experience that you’re trying to compare. So far, I don’t see that definition yet because in this discussion, “search” has been applied to looking for:

  • something you know (model number)
  • the general space in which you might find the specific (website or supermarket aisle)
  • anything in particular within some constraint (browsing)
Applying that to say, movies, we get searching for a specific movie or actor in IMDB, looking in Google for that movie you remember where someone says “schwing” or looking in a movie review site for what movies are playing.

Are all of these search? By some people’s definition, yes. Do they all have real world counterparts? I think so (Dave has mentioned a few).

Back to Dave’s question: have they changed in the way the digital world has changed?

I think it’s a mistake to try to separate the two. Yes, the way I conduct real world “searches” has changed because I do much more online instead now. I don’t call customer service first, I search to see if someone has a) got the same problem as me and b) solved it.

David Heller wrote:

maybe “search” is the wrong word … Where’s Peter Morville when you need him? … I mean to say, isn’t the real action from a user’s perspective “finding”?

Whether, I browse a collection filtered by a taxonomy (navigational browsing; browsing an aisle in a supermarket), or I go to a search engine and place a model # in, or go to a customer service rep and tell him/her what model I’m looking for in a store, the end result is what matters most, no? that is to say the point is whether or not I get what I wanted, whether or not I know exactly my final selection before hand or not. (that’s a lot of whethering!) … dave

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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?