I just spent a few days watching people use a search interface for a site (lets call it Site X for now). What stuck with me the most was how different the design challenge was if the user was of the “Google generation”. Everyone showed the Google carry over effect – expectancy of high relevance, fast searches. But for undergraduates who had grown up with Google, it was as if that was the only experience they could deal with. Anything else was too complex, too slow, too not Google.
Take Participant Y (Lets call her Susanne). Susanne is an undergraduate in a California University. She needs to find some information on Site X – she knows it houses some special types of information, not found anywhere else. She does not know much about this topic.
Her first impulse is not to start on Site X, but to start with Google. She goes to the Google toolbar (other undergraduates went to Yahoo or Wikipedia) and types in an exploratory query. She scans the results, focusing on finding an authoritative site which will tell her more. One site looks promising. On clicking the link, she finds its an ecommerce site and bounces back to the search results, and types in a new query. This time the first result gives her what she needs – more information about the topic, and some ideas about words to search on.
Armed with this knowledge and keywords, she (finally!) goes to Site X. She tries a long, specific query. And gets “0” results (unlike Google, site search engines do not have an infinite amount of information, and are not good at guessing what you are looking for. Very specific queries help only when you are using the language of the site.) She tries a few times with other, equally specific queries – each time getting 0 results. Finally, she decides to type in fewer terms, and gets some results. Results look promising, but its more items than she wants to scan (60 items is “too much”!). She adds another word in the search result, a word she saw in one of the result. Searching again and again takes time, and she complains about download speed pretty often. But in the end she is able to find the information she is looking for.
Susanne never uses advanced search. Instead her queries get more and more specific. As her queries get more specific, the chances of getting 0 results also gets higher, and her frustration with the site increases.
Later she talks about how she would be unlikely to use Site X again since she could probably find good enough results just through Google itself.
Welcome to designing for the Google generation. Highly skilled at query development. Fast, impatient, and in a strange way – extremely inflexible. Nothing but a Googlesque interface will do.