Accidentally searching for inputs

It’s amazing how search engines are wrapping some sites with a task-oriented interface that trumps the site’s own interface.

The accident: I type “fedex.com” as “fedex.copm” into the Address bar by mistake, and hit Enter before I even see what I did.

What happened: The search engine which handles the DNS lookup failure (bing.com on my computer) provides a whole navigation layer on top of the “best match” (aka “most clicked”) result (which is fedex.com, obviously) including "Track", but more importantly the input field I was going to look for when I got to FedEx, "Track a package”:

Picture of Bing search result for fedex.copm

I see this, past in the tracking ID I had, and I’m done. Really slick.

I’ll call out Bing here once again: Bing’s fantastic & you should use it as your default for this reason & others.

Some thoughts:

  • Do users really look beyond even the “Best Match” line and see & use these tasks? I do, and it’s a huge timesaver.
  • Browsers will eventually (and I think in the case of Google Chrome, are) strip even the search page layer away. (Why not show the Track a package input field as an option when I type the  "fedex.cop…" into the browser’s address bar?) Now, is it better for users that a browser do this, or the functionality stay in the resulting page?
  • If browser integration is better for users, what’s the existing or emerging standard for this that all browsers can implement?

World Wide Telescope, narrow perspective

The Ring Nebula

Two weekends ago we camped at Bruneau Dunes, which opens its observatory Friday & Saturday evenings after 8:30PM.

Even though the moon was overwhelmingly bright we saw the moons of Jupiter and “The Ring Nebula”  M57.

While M57 doesn’t really look so colorful when seen through Bruneau’s telescope as it does on Wikipedia (right), I saw its light with my own eyes, filtered only by glass, a lot of nothing, & dust.

Standing in line for the big scope isn’t a dream (it’s a bit stuffy & dark in the building, and it took about 20 minutes) and while I was there I overheard:

“If they were smart they’d just put a big TV up on the wall.”

and

“Let’s go, we can look at this online.”

(And they left.)

I respect the work being done to let us view the cosmos through computers & TV (World Wide Telescope, for example), and I realize not everyone has access to such a telescope, but when you do, wait for it. Let the light from these perhaps long-gone places soak straight into your brain through your eyeballs and see what happens. 20 minutes is not too high a price for amazement.

Google Fast Flip and Bing Visual Search: experimenting on users vs. utility

What’s Fast Flip? It’s an experiment to see what live news content we’ll click through on when standing 20 feet away. Like a newsstand, without the ambiance. Could I get a copy of Giant Skyscraper Ad Quarterly, and some gum, please?

Google Fast Flip: Which one of these blocks of unreadable text is not like the other? 
Google Fast Flip: Which one of these blocks of text is not like the other?

Utility in Fast Flip’s hero scenario (described here) is not in selecting, but in “flipping”
between news articles, which it does well enough, but with many missing affordances & constraints (like not being able to view the whole article.) Flip needs to be browser functionality, not a web app. Maybe such functions will push into IE or Chrome at some point.

I think of Bing Visual Search as an experiment too, but it puts its filter & decide utility right up front (scenarios described on the Bing blog here.)

Bing Visual Search displaying top apps   
 Bing Visual Search lets users decide between top apps.

I imagine snapshots of news loaded into Bing Visual Search, and, vice versa, visual searches plugged into Fast Flip. Both would work, but Visual Search would be the sexier decision front end for either, especially if Bing worked with browser tabs (it doesn’t seem to at the moment) and with “DeepZoom” to handle resolution issues.

Speaking of sex, as the US wakes up the the results of the Fast Flip experiment are becoming clear… we click through on skin and scandal, no matter how far away it is:

Pages showing skin and the word 'cheat' 
This morning’s “Most Viewed” on Google Fast Flip