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Michael Fry <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Michael Fry <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 28 Jan 1999 13:16:16 -0500
TEXT/PLAIN (68 lines)
New comments below...

On Thu, 28 Jan 1999, Ralph Brandi wrote:

> At 12:09 PM -0500 1/27/99, Michael Fry wrote:
> >Nichols, Charlie wrote:
> >> Certainly the navigation system on a site should be good.  But search
> >> may be many people's preferred mode; see Jakob Nielsen's column on the
> >> subject at
> >
> >Jared Spool et al. have suggested (in UIETips from 10/23/97) that
> >designers should focus more on providing effective navigation than on
> >giving users the immediate option to search a site.
> At CHI '98, I listened to both Nielsen and Spool on the topic of search.
> On Saturday night in the first tutorial I attended, Jakob Nielsen told us
> that search was absolutely critical, the most important thing on a site,
> and should be present on every page.  In Spool's "Web Pages That Work"
> tutorial during the day on Monday, Jared made the case that search doesn't
> work, people get more lost than ever when they use it, and you should
> forget about it and concentrate on better navigation.
> <snip>
So I asked Jakob, if search
> is so awful and doesn't work, why should I rush to place it on all of my
> pages when I get home?  His answer was that yes, it was pretty bad, but it
> was less bad than the alternative, which was for users to surrender and
> leave the site.  He claimed it acts as a "life preserver" when users are
> foundering and about to go under for the third time, and gives them one
> more chance to find what they're looking for.  It may not produce success
> as often as you would like, but it succeeds more often than giving up does.
> I thought that made sense.

I think it does, too, but I wonder how many users actually think of the
search tool as a last resort rather than as an easy out that eliminates
the need to figure out a site's organizational structure (regardless of how good or bad it
may be).

In other words, I think 'search' is very seductive. Indeed, those
fatuous Lycos ads promising users immediate success with the push of a
button just perpetuate the belief that there's no reason to dig through
content when you can just search for it instead. (And Lycos *has* a

So, yes, I completely agree that as a last resort, users certainly should
have the option to search. But, I *don't* think it's realistic to expect
users to think of 'search' as a last resort. And while I do think there's
a risk of losing people who can't find what they want, my hunch is that
the consequences of a bad search are greater than the consequences of
having users who can't find things using the navigational tools.

To me, a failed search is more absolute than the uncertainty of getting
lost or being unsuccessful with the navigation. It seems to say, "You used
the most powerful tool at your disposal and still couldn't find it. What
you're looking for must not exist." In my mind, it doesn't get any more
discouraging than that. As a designer, therefore, I think my preference is
to have users leave my site (or any site) believing that what they want
*might* exist (if difficult to locate) rather than "It just doesn't

I'm not sure how well I've expressed myself on this one, but I think it's
a very interesting topic...