While looking for information about the Nintendo Wii he had just preordered, Joel Nagy found himself running across a growing number of search results that didn’t have the facts he wanted. Instead, he got back articles talking about comparisons or previews. What to do when you get pages about the PS3 or Xbox when you’re looking for the Wii? Search clouds provide an interesting solution.
Search engines have the facility to append a group of relevant words to each search result that gives users a context clue about the page itself. This way the searcher can judge how relevant a hit will be to her particular focus or need. The terms add another bit of available metadata to the result list, and make choosing the best result a little easier.
A great way to present this sort of weighted information is in a cloud (as in tag clouds). A cloud of terms would show the frequency of related words on each page. With terms clouds, a searcher can peruse the hits on her query and quickly weed out the pages that emphasize topics she is not interested in, or hone in on ones that do.
In the mockup below (based on my recent search), the clouds tell an interesting story about the top four results. If I was looking for comparisons between the Wii and other consoles, I might choose the first or second hit; if I was looking on information for games, I would probably choose the third. But by using the clouds, I’ve saved myself a few unnecessary clicks.
Meta information is especially useful in searching and browsing like this. Search clouds provide the clues that can help users narrow their searches on a high level so that they don’t waste time visiting irrelevant pages. And anything to keep me from being annoyed by the PS3 is worthwhile.
You can send feedback on Search Clouds at the arc90 blog.