Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Can you find me that red book I used before?

Librarians are used to being asked for help like this (at least we USED to be asked for help like that). Now, apparently, computer researchers are finding that people interact with webpages the same way. Technology Review reports in an April 10 story by Erica Naone that searchers are more successful looking for web pages when they combine a search with information culled from their search history information with thumbnail images. Most people find colors and images much easier to recall than words or numbers, apparently. The new tool improves the search speed for retrieving pages from web history pages and web searching generally.

Jing Jin, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, has developed a new browser-history tool, which she and her colleagues developed after studying how people use their browser history. They demonstrated the prototype in a presentation this week at the Computer-Human Interaction (CHI 2009) Conference, in Boston. (snip)

The researchers tested users' ability to recall Web pages and found that URLs and textual descriptions (by which most browsers organize their history) weren't as easy to remember as colors or images collected from the Web pages themselves. So the researchers' tool--currently a plug-in for the Firefox browser--lets users browse images of websites that they have visited in the past, or type in search queries that find previously visited pages.

The researchers also used the new history tool to improve Web search, by adding thumbnails from browser history at the top of Google search results. The thumbnails were selected according to the search terms that the user entered into the search engine.

In testing, the researchers discovered that people could find the page they were looking for within about a minute on average using the prototype add-on, compared with an average of three minutes using the standard browser history. The user tests also showed that people were able to actually find a given old page more often with the prototype.
The article goes on to discuss other researchers who argue over whether search history pages need to be redesigned to improve usability. Some FireFox browser versions currently cull information from search history to guess at completing the URL a user is typing, for instance. And Google's Chrome now offers a "speed dial" option with thumbnail images of favorite webpages. All steps toward improving location techniques for those troublesome humans who have always based their personal recall systems on the color of the book or the look of the webpage. That's me, by the way, library training and all!

1 comment:

Larry Roth said...

Interesting post. I wonder if this research had been an inspiration for Apple to use CoverFlow for browsing your Web history in Safari 4.0.

I was surprised to find from my own experience how much that little preview image helps me to find the write page.