Ajax was the key improvement in search in recent years, says search expert

22 Feb
starO’Reilly Radar – Insight, analysis, and research about emerging technologies.
February 19, 2010 3:00 PM
by Mac Slocum

Search is the Web’s fun and wicked problem

Peter Morville, co-author of “Search Patterns” and a long-time observer of the search domain, looks at the next wave of search in the following Q&A. He shows how “weird ideas” will shape search’s future, and he also reveals the one recent innovation that unlocked a watershed moment for search (it’s not what you’d expect).

MS: What’s been the best search/UI development of the last 3-5 years? What really opened things up?

PM: Autocomplete is an old pattern from the desktop that’s found new life in Web and mobile search. Once relegated to the musty modules of “help” in desktop software, autocomplete is now part of our everyday experience. It’s a great answer to the question: why wait for results? It saves time and typos by serving up suggested searches or destinations while we’re still entering our query. And, it’s a simple design pattern with powerful potential. For instance, Yahoo complements basic autocomplete with an offer to explore related concepts. By analyzing query-query reformulation data and post-query browse behavior, Yahoo is able to suggest similar queries that don’t even contain the original keywords. We can find what we didn’t know to seek.

So, what really opened things up? I’d argue it was Google Maps. All of a sudden, designers realized what could be done with programming frameworks like Ajax, and autocomplete was simply one of many interaction design patterns that flourished on the Web soon after that watershed moment.

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