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November 28, 2004

Take My Results Ranking - Please!

Scoble just blogged about MSN Search's "results ranking" feature. He asks: "What do you think? Is this useful? Does it help you get better results for the searches you are doing?". Ye gods. I've been meaning to blog about this piece of crud. I do NOT think it is useful. In fact I dislike it intensely. I hope the following comments are taken as constructive criticism...I know the MSN Search team is working hard, I know several people who work on the product and they are all very smart, and I think it's great Microsoft is doing search. Perhaps this was added as a result of user surveys...in which case I posit that the wrong people are being surveyed.

Here's a picture of the offending UI component:

Where to begin...Google I guess just updated the variable that holds their "Searching XXX web pages" count from 32 to 64 bits, so they can now bump their index from 4 billion sites to 8 billion sites. Woohoo!! Look, those numbers are only useful if the site I want is one of the extra 4 billion, and it actually shows up on the first few pages of results. People talk about how search engine X returns 100,000 hits for something and search engine Y returns 200,000. Does anyone (who has ever kissed a girl) really care? Do you spend a lot of time on hits 100,001 through 200,000 (SEARCH HITS, I mean).

My point here (and I do have one) is that I really don't know or care much about the search engine results that I don't see. Once you get past about 100, it's all just noise.

So I think the MSN Search results ranking thing (which lets you specify variables for exactmatchness, popularity, and freshness on a scale from 0-100, with 50 the default) is the kind of feature only a true geek could love and/or productize. If I get GOOD results the first time then I don't care, and if I get BAD results...well let's see. I DIDN'T see the pages I wanted. Now I'm supposed to GUESS what deficiency in these pages prevented me from seeing them. Let's all join hands and meditate and perhaps a spirit from the eighteenth dimension will reveal something about those forlorn pages...MMMMMMM, maybe they are "fresher" then the pages I did get. Or maybe they are a "more exact" match than the pages I did get. How the heck should I know?!? If I knew so much about these pages I have never seen, I probably wouldn't be so desperate to find them that I spent time futzing with those sliders.

I can speculate as to what leads to this kind of design. It's one of those "Google zigs, we zag" moves that Microsoft is good at. Google's Advanced Search lets you specify all vs. any of your words, and a rough date range. So MSN Search has this results ranking slider. That's the wrong way. You want to be more precise, not less. What does a freshness of 57 mean compared to a freshness of 68? Google lets you pick last 3 months, last 6 months, or last year. Why not provide an exact date range? You're inserting fuzziness where people either want a) nothing or b) more precision.

This is a beta, so here's my beta feedback: get rid of this. Thanks. P.S. In case this "feature" lasts, I'll try to make myself useful by pointing out that the help page for Search Builder has the sliders ordered wrong in the text.

Posted by AdamBa at November 28, 2004 04:15 PM

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