Visualizing research(part I)

For a few years now I’ve been playing around with an idea for a product, that could revolutionize the way we do bibliography, by inducing a spy-agent upon our research facilities, which would thus have to blend in with both the search engine and the browser. It might sound somewhat confusing at first, but hopefully this post will be explanatory enough 🙂

Multi-tab browsers

Today, trying to find a way to combine my Miranda IM and Twitter(so that I can use twitter as an msn-like contact), it suddenly struck me that, for the past 3-4 years I have right-clicked on a Google result and clicked “Open in a new tab”(which was much easier in the BC(Before Chrome) era, where we used mouse gestures to open links in new tabs, but hopefully that is on their feature list), often returning to Google to find a few more links, prior to reading the page I opened just a moment ago.

Sure enough, this is a result of using multi-tab browsing, in fact it is the point of it. I read a lot, my Twitter feed is a proof of that, but my tab-bar is still every day filled up with tabs that I plan to read in the hours/days to follow. It’s a sort of pre-bookmarking mechanic I use, opening whatever sounds interesting in a new tab and keeping it there for better times to read it. If it’s something interesting I share/bookmark it via Twitter or Google Reader(more on that in a future post, where I will explain how to do research in the modern era of social media).

Even though according to w3schools, only 15.4%(http://bit.ly/ST5T5) of the users do still use a non-multi-tab browser(IE6) many more people actually don’t use tabs as they are supposed to be used, if at all use them. This multi-tab “thing” was basically forced upon these people without an actual need for it. Unfortunately, precisely because of this I have been unable to find any good quantitative data on how tabs actually are used in the general public(if you have any, feel free to send it to me). As qualitative example, my own mother a well-trained Oracle database administrator has only recently started using the “New tab” button in her IE7, even though the idea has been around for quite a while, and neither I, nor MSFT have been able to get that across to her until now.

Perhaps that has something to do with the online generation that I am a part of. We are presumably more used to doing things simultaneously, or at least multi-threading-alike by instantly stacking and organising tasks as they come up, but still performing them one at a time. Whatever the reason, the idea is this – people with low web usage, which does not go beyond “flight-searches”, YouTube videos, quick news, and so on, usually don’t use the multi-tab feature.

The search engine

Google was built for these people, or at least the direct-link interface, ahead of blank-page link interface. Let me explain the constraints of this with a few flowcharts, here is the life of a search as Google defines it:

1However people that search a lot, those who do use the multi-tab feature, use Google in another way, which in a flow-chart can be shown in the following way:

2

Well, I admit that by now you are quite confused, and well a lot of the points in the second flow-chart may very well be applied in the first. The fact of the matter is that really, the average googler does a mixture of these things depending on the complexity, importance and many other factors of a search. So let me try to simplify the diagrams to try get my point across more directly, here is Google’s original model:

3

Compared to the multi-tab model:

4

The idea is this – you use your extraordinary skill to sort information upon first impressions to compile data out of several sources simultaneously instead of going deep into single results. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is arguable for a few reasons.

First of it is bad because none of the sources are used to their full extent, but it is good because several sources are used to build up the data, and thus it is more objective. From this point on it is a philosophical question of which one is better, but the fact remains that this is how some(perhaps even most) of us find information.

Open in new tab

Thus, I am suggesting Google changes their interface, by adding one simple attribute to the html links to search results, namely:

target=’_blank’

So that I don’t have to waste that half a second right clicking and pressing “Open in new tab”.

Optimization, optimization and optimization once again:)

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One response to “Visualizing research(part I)

  1. Ever tried Ctrl+click and Ctrl+Shift+click for the “open in new tab” problem? (:

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