Thursday, 29 May 2008

WSG London Findability 'introduction to findability'

Last night I went to the WSG London Findability event at Westminster University. The event was part of London Web Week. As always, apologies for any errors; corrections and comments are welcome.

First up was Cyril Doussin with an 'introduction to findability'.

A lot of it is based on research by Peter Morville, particularly Ambient Findability.

So what do people search for?
Knowledge - about oneself; about concepts/meaning; detailed info (product details, specs); entities in society (people, organisations, etc.)
Opinions - to validate a feeling or judgement; establish trust relationships; find complementary judgements.

What is information? From simple to complex - data -> information -> knowledge.

Findability is 'the quality of being locatable or navigatable'.
Item level - to what degree is a particular object easy to discover or locate?
System level - how well does the environment support navigation and retrieval?

Wayfinding requires: knowing where you are; knowing your destination; following the best route; being able to recognise your destination; being able to find your way back.

The next section was about how to make something findable:
The "in your face" discovery principle - expose the item in places known to be frequented by the target audience. He showed an example of a classic irritating Australian TV ad, a Brisbane carpet store in this case. It's disruptive and annoying, but everyone knows it exists. [Sadly, it made me a little bit homesick for Franco Cozzo. 'Megalo megalo megalo' is also a perfect example of targeting a niche audience, in this case the Greek and Italian speakers of Melbourne.]

Hand-guided navigation - sorting/ordering (e.g. sections of a restaurant menu); sign-posting.

Describe and browse (e.g. search engines) - similar to asking for directions or asking random questions; get a list of entry points to pages.

Mixing things up - the Google 'search within a search' and Yahoo!'s 'search assist' box both help users refine searches.

Recommendations (communication between peers) - the searcher describes intent; casual discussions; advice; past experiences.
The web is a referral system. Links are entry doors to your site. There's a need for a relevancy system whether search engines (PageRank) or peer-based systems (Digg).

Measuring relevance (effectiveness):
Precision - if it retrieves only relevant documents
Recall - whether it retrieves all relevant documents.

Good tests for the effectiveness of your relevance mechanism:
Precision = number of relevant and retrieved documents divided by the total number retrieved.
Recall = number of relevant and retrieved documents divided by the total number of relevant documents.

Relevance - need to identify the type of search:
Sample search - small number of documents are sufficient (e.g. first page of Google results)
Existence search - search for a specific document
Exhaustive search - full set of relevant data is needed.
Sample and existence searches require precision; exhaustive searches require recall.

Content organisation:
Taxonomy - organisation through labelling [but it seems in this context there's no hierarchy, the taxon are flat tags].
Ontology - taxonomy and inference rules.
Folksonomy - a social dimension.

[In the discussion he mentioned eRDF (embedded RDF) and microformats. Those magic words - subject : predicate : object.]

Content organisation is increasingly important because of the increasing volume of information and sharing of information. It's also a very good base for search engines.

Measuring findability on the web: count the number of steps to get there. There are many ways to get to data - search engines, peer-based lists and directories.

Recommendations:
Aim to strike a balance between sources e.g. search engine optimisation and peer-based.
Know the path(s) your audience(s) will follow (user testing)
Understand the types of search
Make advertising relevant (difficult, as it's so context-dependent)
Make content rich and relevant
Make your content structured

I've run out of lunch break now, but will write up the talks by Stuart Colville and Steve Marshall later.

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