Web Searching

Search technology is a great interest of mine, fast accurate searches make a massive different to any information retrieval task.  How much relevance ranking, search faceting, related terms have made a massive different.

It certainly appears to me that no matter how well designed a nativation hierarchy is, after a certain number a search engine is dramatically superior. 

I am unsure if there has been any research into maximum acceptable items contained within a navgation hierarchies is useful, but they quickly become unusable to anyone other than the original archiver when they span more than 3 tiers and although the number of items within each tier could vary I would suggest that anything larger than 1930 items would be extremely difficult to navigate without a search tool.  This is assuming a 3 tier hierarchy with 8 items in the first and second tiers and 30 in the final tier.

After reading an article on designing a mobile autosuggest it did remind me of one of the poorest design decisions website manufacturers can make, getting rid of the search box!

There are so many poor mobile design patterns on the web today (just see ITV's mobile website!) but removing the search box is the worst.  Please if you are designing a mobile website make sure that it is still usable on a good smart phone, not just some early colourless nokia with a screen 64*64 pixels wide!

Things you should NOT do on a mobile site:
  • Remove the search box
  • Use different HTML between "mobile" and "desktop" sites
  • Prevent access to the desktop version
Following those three simple rules avoids most of the biggest frustrations a mobile user can have.  I genuinely hate it when I have searched Google found the exact article I want to view only to visit the site and be redirected to the main mobile page... This can often be made even worse when the mobile site does not have a search box to allow quickly finding the appropriate article, and can even be compounded when there is no "mobile" version of that page available because the mobile and desktop sites are not in sync.

Additionally there appears to be the assumption that mobile ALWAYS means low bandwidth.  While this is a fair default assumption to work to it should be recognised that mobile devices can be running on a wifi connection that is as fast as most desktops.  Ebay is a prime example of this poor behaviour.  If I am looking for an item and attempting to determine if the item is appropriate I will look at the picture the seller has uploaded.  Ebay provide a low resolution version of the uploaded image, I click on this image and still have a low resolution image which is certainly not good enough to make a decision on, there is no option on this page to get a larger size, something more appropriate to render on my 4" screen.

Progressive CSS, a desktop view link, combined withnot removing major elements is easy, infact I am sure in almost all instances it is easier than the poor two-site solutions that are dreamed up.


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