Those who didn’t make it through the snow on Weds to the Enterprise Search London meetup missed a great event: three excellent speakers, all with a very different story to tell.
In reverse chronological order we had Stephen Arnold, who gave a forthright account of his views on real time search and the spurious assertions of vendors who claim to support it. It was quite refreshing to hear someone openly celebrating the value of engineering and its role in providing the foundation for search effectiveness and innovation – in our world of style over substance it is timely reminder that form should always follow function. And Stephen is a great speaker – he has the unique quality of remaining riveting even when you’re not exactly sure what he’s saying (although I should point out that any befuddlement on my part was no doubt more influenced by the complimentary Chianti than a lack of coherence on Stephen’s part :))
Second speaker was Martina Schell, who talked us through the challenges she and her colleagues face in transforming the experience of shopping for holidays at Travelmatch. Two important messages stood out from Martina’s talk: First, it seems the reason they selected Endeca was that it did what they needed and was backed up by professional support – observing that without this if they’d hit a fundamental problem with the platform they’d have been “relatively screwed”. The second lesson concerns the compromises they have had to make in order to provide a UX that their users are comfortable with. It seems that the freedom of being able to start with any facet (as opposed to entering the usual fields of home airport, target destination, preferred date, etc.) was just too revolutionary for many users – and as a result they have stepped back from a quite radical design with facets arranged in a radial pattern to something much more conservative and traditional in appearance, using a classic left hand vertical stack. It’ll be interesting where their UI ends up – there’s no doubting that their site offers a degree of freedom that other travel sites don’t and the design should communicate this, but the speed with which they can advance the conversation and lead their users down that path to freedom remains to be seen.
But possibly the most memorable talk of the night for me was that by Max Wilson and his research into “searching for leisure purposes”, i.e. search for no other purpose than to be entertained or engaged by an enjoyable experience. I find this is an intriguing notion and such a contrast to the traditional view of search as a functional capability whose success is defined by completion of some tangible goal. There’s no doubt that exploratory and leisure-based search behaviours can only grow in significance, particularly as so much search and discovery activity is now mediated by social networks and mobile contexts, both of which are characterised by undirected, spontaneous communication and engagement. It’ll be interesting to see how the taxonomy of search behaviours he is developing will evolve and extend those defined by Gary Marchionini, from which our own work at Endeca draws heavily.
So congrats once more to Tyler and Stefan for organising yet another great event. With membership numbers now exceeding 250, this group is clearly doing something right. IRSG, take note 🙂