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Live search explained

Trend: Live search will gradually replace traditional search in web applications. As mainstream programs such as Windows Vista matures up to release, and live search is deeply integrated, we can expect more web pages implementing live search. Apple’s Spotlight and MSN Desktop Search uses the same Live search paradigm that we’ll probably see a lot more in the year to come.

My post from yesterday has more on different examples of live search usage. Let me just explain the difference between live search and traditional search.

Traditional search: A search user interface component consists of a text field and a “search” button. User types and when finished typing, he presses “search”. Then the results are displayed. If user misspells a word or does not find any useful results, then user must correct search term in input field and press “search” button again.

Problems here involve that people often misspells words. Google registered 593 ways of spelling Britney Spears, and a study (that we mentioned earlier) showed that 3% of all searches are misspelled. (I wonder if that number has raised since 1997). Jakob Nielsen found that only 51% find what they’re looking for in the first search.

That concludes that users are likely to refine results when searching. Refining results multiple times can be tedious using traditional search.

Live search: The search user interface is identical to traditional search. But results are fetched whenever the user “hesitates” — for instance stop typing for a brief moment. An example of this is Google Suggest where the most popular results are presented as-you-type.

Google suggest autocomplete feature

The user experience is very different that traditional search: Here you type, hesitate, and get results. This has some benefits:

  • Relevant alternatives are presented as you type, so the best match can be picked immediately.
  • Its easy to refine your search: Just continue typing
  • If the search typed is too narrow its easy to press backspace and remove characters.
  • In the better implementations (like Google Suggest above), the best match is highlighted in the input field. In this way, the user can press “enter” and immediately go to the content page. Traditional search involves an extra click on the results page.

Live search can be a big time saver for a user, especially considering that at 49% of all searches will be refined. Furthermore, misspellings can be corrected immediately (there is no need to wait until the results show up.

Any system designer should consider it, given the performance advantages it can give for the end user. On the downside, live search requires more processing power as multiple searches are performed every second (depending on setup of course).

Bill Scott of Yahoo has described Kayak.com (travel site) autocomplete:

Kayak.com is a good example of live auto complete. Say the user is wanting to fly into New York city. They seem to remember that the airport they want is called LaGuardia (not sure how to spell it or what the airport code is). When I type ‘New Y’ I get the following results:

kayak-auto-complete-LGA.png

Ok, this is nice. I hate remembering the airport code. And I hate having to go to another page to find out that the site could not figure out what I meant. Jakob Nielsen states as one of his ten usability principles, Error Prevention. Providing the feedback instantaneously to cue me to what the system thinks is great. Saves me time and makes me feel like I am narrowing in on the right thing. This probably ties in with Jared Spool’s research on The Confidence Game which shows that users are happy to click and click as long as they feel confident they are reaching their goal. Here I have the best of both worlds. Raise my confidence and do it with the minimal effort!

[...]

Without a question this helped me narrow to my result and did not distract me.

More good examples from his brilliant article “Distracting or Narrowing: Looking a Little More At Live Search“.

Christopher Allen wrote Google Suggest Dissected with references and links to more technical information:

This specific technique is probably not useful for all web sites — the amount of load that even a small number of users can place on a database using this technique requires a large server infrastructure, as basically every time you type a letter a database is being hit. Google can do this as they understand server farms and how to scale large loads. However, as inspiration for other ideas, I think it is marvelous.

To build on my conclusion from yesterday, Live search will definately reach broader appeal as more and more mainstream applications occur with this feature. Also — from a user perspective — Live search is unobtrusive and reveals itself without intimidating users that are not aware about it (this is what usability people call discoverability).

There are clear indications that autocomplete save time, reduces errors and form resubmissions. The missing point right now is probably some real usability data to back it up. Recently, uxmatters had a good article on traditional search forms (evaluating ebay, amazon, flickr and more). Findings are available in the article “Evaluating the Usability of Search Forms“. And this type of findings is needed to back up my assumptions with user test data.
Examples

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53 Responses to “Live search explained”

  1. BrianShih.com Says:

    Think before you live (search)

    There are a lot of implementations of “live” search these days – ever since Google Suggest showed off ways AJAX could be used to the general public, people have been putting their own non-refreshing searches into use. But is this is just a…

  2. justaddwater.dk | Justaddwater.dk January 2006 Statistics Says:

    [...] Live search explained (160 visitors) [...]

  3. Usability and Search Engine Pages, Paranoia and Personalized Search » SEO by the SEA Says:

    [...] Jesper Rønn-Jensen provides some thoughts on Live search explained. He doesn’t provide too many conclusions, but he does offer some great questions and some nice links for futher research and reading. Live Search? The type of search that interacts with a searcher, and offers suggestions as the searcher hesitates, in the manner of a Google Suggest. [...]

  4. mark Says:

    live search can be annoying sometimes, well the kind that autocompletes the text field.

  5. Small Multiples, a blog by Dmitry Nekrasovski » Blog Archive » Search should work like magic Says:

    [...] Everyone involved in implementing search, whether on an external or intranet site, must read this article: As much as is possible, search should always give [users] the information they need, somewhere in the first few results… [Users] should not have to learn complex search options, or spend time carefully considering the most effective search terms and options. Regardless of what the user is searching on, the right results should be returned… There is often a confusion between powerful and complex search – the two are not the same… It quickly becomes apparent that exposing more search functionality is not the answer, as few [users] will use the extra features. [...]

  6. Iago Blog » Tutoriales Ajax Says:

    [...] Live search explained [...]

  7. Ritesh Jariwala - (Actkid) Rich Internet Applications (Flash, Flashcom, PHP, MySQL, AMFPHP, Remoting, ColdFusion, Flex) Developer’s Blog : 30 Ajax Tutorials Says:

    [...] Live search explained [...]

  8. Wordpress » Blog Archive » Ajax Tutorial Round-up Says:

    [...] Live search explained [...]

  9. Art and Technology » Says:

    [...] Live search explained Live search will gradually replace traditional search in web applications. As mainstream programs such as Windows Vista matures up to release, and live search is deeply integrated, we can expect more web pages implementing live search. [...]

  10. justaddwater.dk | “Live search explained” popular thanks to AJAX Says:

    [...] Live Search Explained [...]

  11. justaddwater.dk | Justaddwater.dk March 2006 Statistics Says:

    [...] Live search explained (961 visitors) [...]

  12. CodeRecipe Official Blog » Blog Archive » Ajax round up — Top 30 Says:

    [...] Live search explained Live search will gradually replace traditional search in web applications. As mainstream programs such as Windows Vista matures up to release, and live search is deeply integrated, we can expect more web pages implementing live search. [...]

  13. JanuMedia » 30 Links to AJAX Tutorials Says:

    [...] Live search explained [...]

  14. samfind Says:

    The best part of Live search is the never ending scroll bars that Microsoft has implemented on the Photo search of Live.com (http://www.live.com/?q=girls&scope=images). But is it me or does everything seem to take forever to load!

    samfind
    http://samfind.com

  15. lea Says:

    another example for a live search is on Answers.com
    where you not only get help searching you get all you needed to know in 1- click isntead of many search results.

  16. Top 126 Ajax Tutorials : Ultimate Web Developer Lists : eConsultant Says:

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  17. justaddwater.dk | Time to revise our blog purpose Says:

    [...] Popular posts (just to pick a few): [...]

  18. Goresan Tinta Mucharom :: 30 Links to AJAX Tutorials :: September :: 2006 Says:

    [...] Live search explained [...]

  19. All Cusco | Blog » Blog Archive » Top - 126 tutoriales Ajax Says:

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  22. H.G.M. Blog » Blog Archive » Helpful tutorials to learn Ajax. Says:

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  23. Don Lapre Lover Says:

    I find that I like the autosearch feature available these days. They are compatable with varioius platforms and for a variety of uses. Pick your poision I say.

    Laura
    Don Lapre Lover
    http://www.lauraglydaband.com

  24. justaddwater.dk | Happy Birthday Justaddwater :) Says:

    [...] Live search explained [...]

  25. brian Ngana Says:

    Nice site on live search. I think it is the next way forward for search. it may ot be very easy to implement on large database indexes though…just a thought. I have to your page on my ajax resource site http://www.ajaxshack.com Hope that ok…. :-)

  26. 137.sunnyjacob.co.uk » Blog Archive » AJAX Tutorials Says:

    [...] Live search explained [...]

  27. Ajax Plugins » Blog Archive » Top 126 Ajax Tutorials Says:

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  29. Bleebot | Christophe Lefevre » + de 140 tutos Ajax Says:

    [...] Live search explained : at JustAddWater [...]

  30. sastgroup.com » Blog Archive » Tutorials su ajax Says:

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  31. Il blog sul php » Tutorials su ajax Says:

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  32. Tomer Molovinsky Says:

    PredictAd is live search autocomplete tool that displays keyword-based advertising. It’s seamlessly integrated into any search box and monetizes websites by displaying relevant ads as the user is typing a search query.

    For more info visit our website at http://www.predictad.com or email me.

  33. justaddwater.dk | Affordance of Autocomplete Text Fields Says:

    [...] in January last year, I wrote about “live search” in user interfaces, with examples from Google Suggest, GMail, Apple Spotlight, Windows Vista and more. But neither of [...]

  34. Smashing Coding » Plus de 140 tutos et scripts Ajax pour les webdevs Says:

    [...] Live search explained : at JustAddWater [...]

  35. 30 Of The Best AJAX Tutorials - Designs Advice Says:

    [...] Live search explained Live search will gradually replace traditional search in web applications. As mainstream programs such as Windows Vista matures up to release, and live search is deeply integrated, we can expect more web pages implementing live search. [...]

  36. Niet nuttig, of wel? » Blog Archive » Ajax leren Says:

    [...] Live search explained Live search will gradually replace traditional search in web applications. As mainstream programs such as Windows Vista matures up to release, and live search is deeply integrated, we can expect more web pages implementing live search. [...]

  37. Monica Says:

    This livesearch is one of the useless things in IE7. the results are completely unreliable, obsolete. Mozilla implemented search much better, you can choose search engines depending what are you looking for. Discrete but powerfull

  38. Hrvoje BIk Says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you Monica. First of all, IE7 is extremely deficient product. As a web designer if work twice as hard to accomplish that webpage looks the same in Mozilla and IE7. And then, there is that live search thing. Obsolete results, invalid link, lots of bugs…

  39. matt Says:

    i love live search , but I don’t love live image search.

  40. 30 Of The Best AJAX Tutorials « DELE DURO!!! Says:

    [...] Live search explained Live search will gradually replace traditional search in web applications. As mainstream programs such as Windows Vista matures up to release, and live search is deeply integrated, we can expect more web pages implementing live search. [...]

  41. Recursos y Tutoriales » Blog Archive » 30 Tutoriales AJAX Says:

    [...] Live search explained Live search will gradually replace traditional search in web applications. As mainstream programs such as Windows Vista matures up to release, and live search is deeply integrated, we can expect more web pages implementing live search. [...]

  42. Design Shrine | AJAX SCRIPT RESOURCES Says:

    [...] Live search explained Feb 10, 06 Live search will gradually replace traditional search in web applications. As mainstream programs such as Windows Vista matures up to release, and live search is deeply integrated, we can expect more web pages implementing live search. Apple’s Spotlight and MSN Desktop Search uses the same Live search paradigm that we’ll probably see a lot more in the year to come. [...]

  43. 32 AJAX Tutorials for Beginners Says:

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    [...] Live search explained Live search will gradually replace traditional search in web applications. As mainstream programs such as Windows Vista matures up to release, and live search is deeply integrated, we can expect more web pages implementing live search. [...]

  45. Entaprise Entertainment Says:

    I don’t see why it isn’t already more widely used in Google and Yahoo. Spotlight the internet! I bet they are scheming right now to livesearch the internet. It would improve my experience A LOT. But maybe it takes too much bandwidth?? I bet that’s what it is.

    -Devin Thayer
    Entaprise Entertainment

  46. 30 AJAX Tutorials « Online all Says:

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  47. http://www.scriptremix.com/ Says:

    Live search explained…

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