If, like me, you find yourself interested in how search engines work, the usability of search engines can be a fascinating topic.
Here are some recent papers and a set of course notes from people at Google On Usability
Relevance and User Satisfaction
A couple of the aims of a search engine are to provide relevant results to searchers, and to have those searchers satisfied with the results that they see. It might be easy to assume that the more relevant search results are to a query, the more satisfied a searcher will be with those results.
A paper from Google explores that area, asking How Well does Result Relevance Predict Session Satisfaction?
In these days of Universal Search, with images, videos, news, and other results that aren’t just links to web pages, there are factors related to results that go beyond which web pages show up in search results. The paper refers to those as “extra” elements that need to be accounted for in search results.
Font size, Font Type, and Images, and Readability
If you’re interested in what someone might look at when conducting a eye tracking, a paper which lists Google’s Dan Russell as one of its authors goes into some details, in An Eye Tracking Study of How Font Size, Font Type, and Pictures Influence Online Reading (pdf).
Difficulties of Usabilty Testing
Another Dan Russell (and Carrie Grimes) paper looks at the differences in how people handle going through the testing problem when the task they undertake is one assigned to them as opposed to one that they choose themselves – Assigned tasks are not the same as self-chosen Web search tasks (pdf).
Looking at User Behavior Other Than Query Logs
Just using query logs to try to understand user behavior when someone searches has some implications for the privacy of searchers. Broadening usabilty studies to other approaches have less implications for privacy issues. In the paper Query Logs Alone are not Enough, the use of field studies, and short tests with large numbers of users are described.
The paper also goes into a lot of detail on the benefits and problems with looking at search engine log files to derive information about searchers. If you’re interest in how people use search engines, there are some interesting insights revealed in this section of the paper.
Ajax, Event States, Bookmarking, and Usability
User interface choices involving applications like Google Maps, Gmail, and Web Search can be difficult. This set of course notes explores some of the issues involved in making those choices, and provides some insights into design and development choices made in those applcations:
CN21: Keeping the Web in Web 2.0: Designing user interaction for web applications (CHI 2008 Course Notes) updated link originally pointed to the 2007 course, and now pointing to the 2008 course