These days, it’s all about search. Google is changing the game with search. Microsoft has validated Google’s position by scrambling to make their own search story happen. Search, and the money associated with search through ads, has established a new arena in technology where none existed really. Quality search results and findability hold the key to billions of dollars.
It’s all pretty understandable. Correlating advertising with search results have proven to be wildly effective. It is turning the advertising world on its end. When we’re perusing through a magazine or lounging around while a TV ad comes on, very little of our consciousness is committed to focusing on the ad. Interspersed between articles or television programs, ads are, by definition, disruptive. In today’s age of mass marketing, our brains are by now very well-conditioned to tune out at appropriate times. Besides, the ads rarely have anything to do with what we’re focusing on in the first place.
Searching for something is a whole other ballgame. Unlike reading or watching TV, we are engaged in a dialogue. We ask a question. We’re also in a task-oriented mindset and anxious to get the right answer. We’re paying attention. When results come up with ads alongside them, we’re in a markedly elevated state of attention. The search engine already has a head start on traditional media: it knows we’re already engaged.
Despite it’s near hypnotic power, we don’t stay around very long. Thought about from a use case perspective, the search process sits somewhere in the middle. We may print out the results. We may write something down. The most likely scenario is that we’re just going to click through and move onto our intended destination. For all it’s engaging abilities, the search engine is just a means to an end.
As an interaction designer, I would love to whip together a nice little interface that allows me to quickly see search results, click on them and quickly jump over to the destination in my browser. In other words, why do I need to use a whole browser to essentially execute on an interim step? Why can’t it be this thin slice of search results in a side bar within a browser or desktop? Or off of my mouse pointer? A better experience can be had if we’re willing to compartmentalize and make portable the search results step.
With all of the toolbars, add-ons, extensions and desktops that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! put out, every one of them land you in the browser. The driver here is not a user case but rather a business case: those ads need to be shown.
Others have talked about how search is headed towards commoditization. If that’s the case, then keep the brand name and the bells and whistles and just give me that information in a portable way. It may run counter to the business ends, but it’s definitely the right thing for users.