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October 24, 2006

Who sets the user's search policy?

There are many ways to use the search engines. All of the list, below, have been observed in recent years. Some are more efficient that others but all can habitual.

  • Search Site = Home Page – to search again use the Back Button
  • Bookmark the Search Site – to search again Back Button
  • Use the search panel – Searching again is easy but takes the most screen space.
  • Type into IE Address Bar – Search Again = Yes – Defaults to MSN or toolbar – Smallest footprint.
  • Start Bar ‘search internet’ – Search again Yes as Search panel – 3 clicks to start!
  • Search Toolbar – Search Again Yes – Small footprint.
  • Deskbar search – Search again Yes – Precurser to OS desktop.
  • Search on OS Desktop – Search again = Yes.
  • Select text & right mouse button – Search from anywhere – choice of local computer or internet.
  • Site specific search. e.g. eBay and Amazon.
  • Specialist search e.g. Google Scholar, Yahoo Images, Blogfinder.
  • Non-search finding e.g. History, Down arrow on Address Bar

The growing choice are the search toolbars, where Google and Yahoo! are dominant with 95% share. IE7 and Vista could change all this by putting Microsoft search as default in the desktop, (with the option to change to other preloaded search engines). Toolbars account for only 12% of all searches however, comScore (2006).

From my visits to SMEs in the midlands the evidence of policies on the computers reveals the following options.
• Company policy. All computers with standard builds, mostly networked.
(This is conscious and planned.)
• Installer & maintainer policy. Often the default search engine lines up with the market leader at the time when the computer was installed. (Conscious but ad hoc.)
• User policy. Adding toolbars, default search providers etc. Google wins here.
(Conscious and ad hoc.)
• Software updates policy. These are agreed, once, for virus scanners, acrobat readers, etc. These can introduce ‘enhancements’, Adobe’s Acrobat update pre-checks ‘Download Yahoo Toolbar’ on the left when the user needs to click on the right to continue. (Unconscious and ad-hoc.)

A lot of toolbars were installed on the computers of inexpert users in the unconscious and ad-hoc way. So are these ‘software policy’ driven installations the next market share battleground for the search engines?
There is a battle for these installations using the likes of Acrobat (Yahoo), Java (Google) and the browser/OS (MS) but the real goal has to be to educate the users to habitually use them.

My observations have revealed a lot of unused toolbars. The conscoius users of the latest tools and methods are likely to be the ones who are driving the growth of searching. These users are finding that these ever-present tools can solve most of their information finding needs with one simple mental model.

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