This blog is dedicated to the in-depth review, analysis and discussion of technologies related to the search and discovery of information. This blog represents my views only and does not reflect those of my employer, IBM.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Type-ahead to Read My Mind

I’m sure you’ve experienced this before. That surprised, kind of gee-wiz feeling you get when you start typing just a few characters and the program you are using attempts to read your mind and guess what you are trying to type. You’ve seen it used in your browser when previously entered URLs with the same starting characters appear in a drop down list as you type. Or you’ve experienced it in your favorite word processor when it automatically rearranges or inserts letters into what you are typing to arrive at the correct spelling of a word. Inevitably these time-saving techniques have also made their way into the search world.

Google, for example, presents a drop down list of submitted queries by those whose previous search expressions have started with the same characters you have typed (shown right). What’s amazing is the speed at which this list is updated as you type additional characters – the list becoming more refined as you complete your query. Click on an entry and the results for that query are automatically retrieved.

Your browser (and Google for that matter) use input logs to recall previously entered values that match your current input. IBM’s enterprise search engine OmniFind was extended in just this way to provide query suggest capability for IFPMA’s clinical trial search.

A lexicon on the other hand is an alternative to query logs and is demonstrated in SurfWax’s LookAhead auto-completion service. A lexicon is a controlled vocabulary that provides end users with a more intelligent, site-centric association of concepts, terms, and products. All lexicon terms are automatically "rotated" as they are imported into LookAhead. For example, L.L. Bean users could find, "True Comfort Footwear" by starting to type either "com..." or "fo..." or "tru...”. The instant display of rotated terms makes browsing a site fast and encourages discovery.

Collarity is a company that has taken type-ahead to the next level with their Compass product. The screen shot to the right shows their Compass widget which offers more functionality than the conventional drop down list.
  • First the user has the ability to choose via a slider control whether the recall values are to come from previous personal, community or global entry logs.
  • The terms themselves are rolled up so that no one term dominates the list. For example “computer system” and “computer technology” appear on the same line.
  • A small set of search results (URLs) are listed for the terms that have been typed in so far.
  • And lastly, the user can switch the scope of the search to either the entire web or restrict it to the current site by clicking on the tabs on the right hand side

There are some users who find these rapidly changing drop down type-aheads annoying. I myself find them intriguing. Its always interesting to see what others have been searching for and if it saves me a few keystrokes of my time then I’m all for it.

1 Comments:

Blogger Mike said...

Interesting post. I think if the UI is done correctly and doesn't intimidate/confuse the user, and includes a way to disable the feature, then it's very useful. OTW, users can become too fixated on the feature and not the search.

2:10 PM

 

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