There is a post About visualization tools over at Tech IT Easy. It is nice to see that I am not the only one who would like to see a better way to work with search results. Why is it that over the last 10-15 years, almost everything on the Web has become more and more visual, but search has stayed largely the same?
Usability Rant – Searching the Web for Documents, and saving them locally
I spent much of the morning (as I frequently do on weekends) doing research on a topic which has caught my interest through the week. I use a number of sources – sometimes just a web search, often a more targeted search like ACM’s or IEEE’s digital libraries. Usually, I do not read the documents I find right away. I like to search, find a significant number of interesting papers, and then I transfer the documents to my Tablet where I can read them, mark them up, and take notes.
This morning I was searching one of the digital libraries (I will not say which one, because I do not think my issue is with a specific library, as much as with the whole web), and saving the documents out to a sub-folder in my Documents folder under Windows Vista. So, the sequence of actions was like this:
- Perform a keyword search on the topic of interest
- Start looking at the list of hits presented 10 at a time (like almost all web search – I have already talked about how much I hate this model)
- I click on the available PDF to view it, which opens another browser window (Rant #1: I cannot right-click and save this document because the link does not point at the actual PDF, but to some sort of delivery system).
- In the new window, I am asked to authenticate myself for this content, even though I have already authenticated when signing in to the document library site (this is Rant #2).
- Having re-authenticated, I finally get to see the document (in the latest Abobe Reader UI – which I am not too fond of either – maybe it will grow on me).
- I click the button to save a copy of this PDF, and a File Save dialog pops up. (Rant #3: Every time I go to save, it defaults to my Documents folder, as opposed to remembering where I saved the last dozen or so documents. Rant #4: Where ever the focus is in the File Save dialog, it is NOT in the list of documents and folders – so I start spinning my mouse wheel to scroll down and find the folder it should have defaulted to in the first place, only to notice nothing is moving, so I have to click in the list box, and then start scrolling. Rant #5: Wouldn’t be nice to have a button somewhere, similar to the Save and Save As buttons, but which allowed you to “Save this to the last place I saved stuff and where I have been saving stuff for an hour”, in one click?)
- About once every 5 or 6 saves, for some reason it DOES remember what folder I was saving to, which is a good thing, but because it is not consistent, it further interrupts the rhythm of my work. (this is Rant #6)
- Periodically as I am going through the search results (in that annoying “10 at a time” list), I will click to view a document and once again be prompted to authenticate, presumably because my session has expired or something. (Rant #7: This should not happen. I have not been away from my keyboard, and I have not paused my work in anyway. The session time-out should detect that I have been active all this time, and should reset. I should not have to repeatedly re-authenticate.)
Admittedly, these are all minor issues. Individually, they would seem not even worth talking about. Together, however, they destroy the overall experience of what I am doing. The destroy my train of thought. They force me to break out of thinking about WHAT I am doing, and think about HOW I am doing it. They waste my time, a fraction of a second at a time. And they annoy the crap out of me!
The sad thing is that this is not an isolated experience. This is the norm, rather than the exception. The computers and software upon which we have come to depend, and which are supposed to make our lives easier, on a frequent and consistent basis, rudely interrupt us with stupid questions and inconsistent behaviour.
There is constant talk in the technology world about “the next big thing”. I, personally, would be thrilled if the “next big thing” were a concerted effort by the technology community to make the current big thing WORK PROPERLY!
"3D" browsing and searching
Came across a post today called Exploring the 3D Search, about an application called SpaceTime (www.spacetime.com). It is a browser and search front end, which presents the results in a 3D “stack”, and allows you to scroll through them in that way.
While I like the initiative of trying a new visual approach, as I have discussed previously, this is really just another way of presenting a list. It is a start, but still not what I am looking for in a really new, “next generation” search visualization.
It is definitely worth checking out, though.
Search Result Visualization
It is amazing to me that there has been so little change in the look and feel of web search results over the last 15 years. Yes, the actual search behind the presentment has improved somewhat. I can now do searches and not have the first to pages dominated by porn sites. But we still get our results back in pretty much the same manner – first 10 hits listed as text, hit next, 10 more hits, hit next, and so on. Is this really the best we can come up with?
How about something more visual, to enable/support some level of “exploratory search”? How about an historical context, that not only looks at what you just searched for, but takes into account other things you have searched for recently – almost like a “search session”? How about keywords to always identify when you are searching – like a retained context.
These are just a few thoughts – I have a bunch more, but I would really like to hear other people’s thoughts on this.