On Sunday, I attend the “Search Patterns: Tangible Futures for Discovery” session at SXSW hosted by Peter Morville, whose library and information science background really helps him to understand how things should be managed, so that they can be easily found.

He set the stage of the session with the metaphor – bad search can be like the Winchester Mystery house.


Stairs Leading to Nowhere

For those of you that are not familiar with the house it is located in San Jose, CA. For 38 years the owner of the house added on and created room after room, staircase after staircase and doorway after doorway. Some of the stairs led to nowhere and there was never a design or plan for the house.

Now it looks like a very nice house from the outside, and you would never know that the inside was so messed up unless you were to get inside it, but once you are inside the house, it is unorganized and very confusing.

The metaphor really set the stage for the session, as every website needs to have a blueprint, so that when you are looking to organize and manage the content, you are able to do so easily and with the ability to allow your visitors to easily access and find the information that they are looking for.

Search Means Different Things to Different People

Morville then went on to discuss how search is a complex and adaptive system with real properties of emergence, and it is very important to understand that search means different things to different people, and when you are designing your website and search capabilities, you have to account for all of the following instances.

Individuals search in very different ways within a website and there are very unique patterns:

  • Narrow
  • Expansive
  • Thrashing
  • and Pearl Growing.

I found the “thrashing” one very interesting, as individuals search for a couple of words/phrases and modify their search time and time again, while always keeping the first term. Pearl Growing was also very interesting -- this is when people find other keywords that help the search and modify their initial search entirely.

This led to his point that you need to think about search in 3 different ways, microscope (detail), telescope (big picture) and kaleidoscope (creativity).

Other key points that were made:

  • Speed is very important
  • The single biggest opportunity for businesses is through search
  • Think about the content and indexing it appropriately, adding metadata
  • Include the Content creators within the search model (metadata)
  • Filtering is an important aspect -- especially within eCommerce
  • You need to have excessive attention to detail and get the interfaces right
  • Social plays an important part in search

Even though I am not a techie or search guy, I found this presentation very informative. To read the back channel on Twitter, search for the hashtag #searchpatterns.