Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Remove This - A Search Interface Improvement

The computer world has a lot of search interfaces these days, and I don't mean just GOOG (732.94 down 8.85 in heavy trading). I'm talking about things like "Search Messages" in Thunderbird and product searches in pricegrabber. In the old library search style, you had to think about what property you wanted to search by: Title, Author, Subject, depending on which index you wanted. Google let us focus on the search term and let the computer search all the indexes.

Either way, the user interface for reporting results is the same: you get a big list to sort through.

And either way, if you find your search isn't working, you start a new, slightly different search.

But I'd like to a twist: a "remove this" button to exclude certain results.

Deleting...From What? with Thunderbird

I should explain how I got this idea: I thought Thunderbird already did it, and wound up deleting some of my email.

I set up some elegant query, and still got back a whole lot of results in the nice table view. I noticed the Delete button, so I selected a number of them that were not relevant, and clicked it, thinking that would remove them from the search view. Ho, ho, ho. They were list traffic archived elsewhere, so no biggie. But then I wondered why not also offer the feature I thought it was offering.

Remove This

This got me wishing that all search interfaces would work like that - with a Remote This button or link. If you know you don't want a result, eliminate it from consideration in future variations of your query. It helps remove the clutter of seeing the same undesired but superficially-related result come back each time you refine your query.

Of course this implies some state to track your list of exclusions, and some way to clear or manage the exclusions. For an application, e.g. Thunderbird, it's no problem, and for product searches as in PriceGrabber that already support a complex filtering system, it's a logical extension. For Google, I'm not sure if it makes sense, interface issues aside, but I think it's worth considering for the uncluttering effect it can have.

(Above is an Artists Conception of how Remove This could appear in a Google search result.)

As a footnote, Supercomputing 2007 kicks off this weekend in Reno, Nevada. I'm not going this year, but I hear my software is, and I wish everyone attending a fun and productive time.

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