Trends for 2014 – Search is the norm

11 November, 2013    

After reviewing submissions for IA Summit 2014 it occurred to me that this might be a good opportunity to think about trends. IA summit is where some of the best minds in IA gather, so the proposals for talks and workshops should represent some dominant themes and concerns. Right?

I went back over the feedback I’d given and grabbed some of the sentences that seemed to make more general points about a trend or an insight that is worth thinking about. Maybe these give us a good indication of things we’ll see in 2014.

Search is becoming the norm

Search is how users connect with content. Google has become the front-door to the internet for a lot of our audience.

Recently I was doing some ethnographic research in a library. We wanted to explore the parallels between the library and websites that try to offer similar services and experiences. I watched as people entered the building, took 4 seconds to consult a sign printed on the wall and then moved on to a different information-seeking strategy.

I think search has accustomed people to almost instant access to highly personalised signposting. I also think that as keywords have become more important to the way people search for information, there’s more chance that if you haven’t selected the best word or phrase to include in your signposting, users are probably now less prepared to connect the dots between their mental model and yours.

In recent user research I’ve also noted some interesting behaviours around ‘re-finding’ content. Product owners are desperate to foster account creation. I’ve often heard that bookmarking and ‘saved favourite’ functionality is a motivator for users to create an account. But I’ve seen some evidence that the the reliability of search is undermining this motivation. As one user said, ‘if everything is stored in my bookmarks, I’ll only ever see the same thing. If I use search to ‘re-find’ something then I’ve got the chance of finding something better than the original’.

In 2014 I’ll be checking these insights, and using my conclusion to shape the way I think about information-seeking strategies. With a product-design approach, it’s sometimes hard to plan and advocate for the ‘plumbing’ that serves multiple products – it sometimes feels like search isn’t really anyone’s sole responsibility, so it gets ignored by everyone. If your search isn’t good enough, or if your IA forces users to rely on search, the odds are increased that user sessions will be interrupted by trips back to Google. If your audience trust Google more than your IA then chances are that they won’t become loyal users – resulting in lots of missed opportunities.

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