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Searching Is Getting More Complicated

By - April 15, 2004

searchqueryemgifA few weeks ago I spent the morning with Gary Flake, who heads up Yahoo’s R&D efforts (Yahoo Labs). He’s got some pretty cool stuff in the works over there, though most of it is still in the “I could tell you but then my publisher would kill me” category. One thing he did say which stuck with me had to do with search interface issues – how to solve that intractable problem of figuring out what the user wants, without forcing that user to jump through UI hoops all day. “We just need one more datapoint,” Flake said, referring to the original query as the first datapoint. “Just one more interface element to make search better.” The problem, of course, is depending on a million factors, that second input might be any number of things, from a “Did you mean…?” clustering question to flicking on a personalization tool that filters results through your zip code, Amazon purchase patterns, search history, social network…etc.
seachgraf2
Anyway, this all came up when I saw this eMarketer report today, proving at least the trends are heading – a bit – toward complication. It shows, as has been the case for the past year or so, that searches are getting more complicated – the percentage of searches that have just one word in them is declining, and the percentage of multi-word searches is ever-so-slowly increasing. The graf at the bottom of this post is last year, at the top, this year.

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  • pb

    Actually only the 2 and 3 word searches increased (2, primarily). 4+ are decreasing along with 1.

  • Lem Fugitt

    Is it that ‘searching is getting more complicated’, or just that the ‘mouse’ is getting smarter and finding quicker ways through the search maze?

    Certainly from the search engine developers perspective things are getting more complicated, but it might also be that the users are evolving too. I know that the way I use search engines has changed pretty dramatically over the past few years.

  • http://willets.org Kendall Willets

    They should look at total searches per session too. If it’s more complicated, sessions will be longer, etc.

  • http://www.nutch.org/ Doug Cutting

    Queries have been getting longer for a long time. I reported on this at SIGIR ’97. Search for “Cutting” in:

    http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue11/sigir97/

    For more on web queries in 1997, see:

    http://jimjansen.tripod.com/academic/pubs/sigirforum98/forum98.html