The Psychology of Search

Here’s a strange and futuristic concept: Google is working on a way to predict when a user is becoming frustrated because they can’t find the information they’re searching for.

Take a look at this link, which sums up the findings of a recent study. The longer research report is available to the public, and though you don’t need to read it to get the gist of the shorter article, it’s pretty fascinating.

New Developments

With the recent launch of Google Instant, the way people search is already changing, as the search engine suggests possible results with every letter you type. It’s pretty mind-blowing when you think about it – almost as if Google can anticipate what you’re looking for without you even finishing your query.

That’s artificial intelligence on an epic scale, and it’s based on statistics of what most people search for rather than any kind of spooky, supernatural clairvoyance. What the programmers at Google are now thinking about is how a search engine can recognise when you’re getting annoyed at your inability to find something.

It kinda makes me think back over every sci-fi movie I’ve ever seen. If a computer program can recognise a human emotion and react to it, that’s one step closer to human behaviour. If you give a computer enough information, what’s to say that it couldn’t emulate the way a person thinks entirely?

But I digress. Back to the topic at hand!

Talk to Me, Google…

The study that’s been undertaken at Washington University notes users’ psychological states while they attempt to find something that’s not readily available on the first page. The findings are intriguing – the more annoyed the user gets, displaying outward signs of frustration such as nail-biting and sighing/frowning, the more he or she begins to ‘talk’ to Google as they would a real person.

That’s really interesting, in an unnerving kind of way. A query that started out ‘prada fashion show models falling’ eventually became ‘what were the names of the models that fell at prada’, according to the research paper. It’s not any more likely to get a result – in fact, it’s probably less likely – but it gives a great insight into a user’s brain.

Other Factors

Other signs that searchers are getting stressed: long pauses before refining search queries, use of phrase search (entering a phrase between speech marks to eliminate more generic results), taking a different approach by rephrasing the query altogether, and becoming less systematic as time goes on.

If Google can program this into its search algorithms, and come up with an effective way of helping the user to find what they’re looking for, that will be a feat worthy of applause.

Watch this space for more on Google’s latest research!