The key to success in companies like Google and Yahoo! comes from their web search, of all things. Many people like to use Google search to find stuff. I admit, they do a great job of indexing and ranking the sites. I don’t know how algorithms work and whatever, but obviously Google has a good one (probably because lots of people use it). So I think the key to get some people to like Windows Live is to introduce a better search engine. Or at least one that would eventually gain that status. So I’ve thought about some ways Windows Live Search could improve. Here’s how it should work:
Web Search (the most important of them all):
- Digg like ranking of search results – Sometimes, the search just isn’t what I want. It also kind of makes me mad that the exact site I want is the 2nd result, or is buried under 6 other results. So how about giving users the option to rank which site is good or bad? I don’t mean like there’s going to be 6,000 diggs for this certain site. I mean ranking on each site in the results. Like if this site I want under "computers" is the 7th results, and I want it to be number 2, I keep pressing the thumb’s up button until it reaches the result 2 status. Or if this site is cruddy, I could push it towards the bottom. Based on what other users are choosing, maybe the Live algorithm could understand it, and keep sites the way most people want it. Although there’s probably going to have to be some kind of limit or set of rules that will prevent Google bombing. So maybe giving the most highest users of Live Search the option to do the Digg ranking of search results? I don’t know how exactly it could work, but I would love this feature. Maybe Windows Live could partner with Digg to allow that type of feature in search results. That would be awesome. But they’re probably going to have to pay big bucks. They could make their own, and use a up and down button instead of thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Whatever it is, I want something like that in search results.
- Favicons next to each search result – Favicons would help many users spot which website they want immediately. If you don’t know, favicons are a logo for a specific website in the URL. Integrating it into the search results makes a specific site easier to find. Hopefully favicons won’t be squashed, or in low detail.
- Spam button – If you press a disgusting link (done this several times), and it’s probably a place most users would avoid, just press the spam button. Much more easier than going through feedback, and having to go through stuff to identify a spam site. I’m thinking of a button that either has the word "spam" in it, or a button with a red flag, meant as ‘flag the site’ to show it has spam or something bad.
- Website image preview – Ask.com and snap.com does it. You know, in the search results, some of the more popular sites will have a preview image of that site, so you can identify it as being exactly the site you’re looking for. It could be updated hourly, or something. I’m thinking that every favicon that has a website image preview available, should have a golden border around the favicon square. Then if you hover over the favicon, you get one of those website image previews. I don’t think it’s something that Windows Live could do on their own. They probably either need to buy snap.com, or partner with it. That’s what I think. It’s probably easier to buy it though. Or buy Ask.com (I seriously doubt).
- Numbered results – Not too important. But some people would like their results numbered, so that if they flip back to the search results page, they can identify which numbers they have already done. I’m thinking of just a round circle with a number in it, the same kind of round circle icon as in Instant Answers. Although, I’m not sure what the 10,000th result circle icon would look like. Or I doubt anyone actually would travel that far in search results. They could probably stop the numbered results at 100 or 1,000.
- Dashed lines to separate different search results – Dashed lines are a Web 2.0 way of separating different ideas, under the same thing. The dashed part is separating the results, so you can differentiate them, but their still under the same search so their still similar. That’s why it’s a dashed line, and not a solid line. Anyways, it’s just more aesthetic, and a better way of doing it. It just looks better.
There’s other stuff, I want on the web results side, but it probably wouldn’t be too important to the Windows Live team.
- Image ranking by users – like I’ve said before, let users rank pictures based on whether it should be at the top or bottom.
- ‘Flag’ button – Sometimes there’s completely inappropriate image to even an innocent image search. So there should be a ‘Flag’ button to alert Windows Live about it.
That’s about it. For the most part, Image search is actually pretty better compared to Google and Yahoo!. Especially the scratchpad. I just think that if they offered a very nice official tour of Image Search, and advertise about it’s scratchpad feature, it would definitely get some users.
- No ranking system – It probably wouldn’t be right to rank constantly changing news searches. It wouldn’t make too much sense to me. Plus Digg already does that.
- More news search options – I wish there was a more better way of getting the news that you want. I want an option of the right side of the page (thankfully, there’s no ads on News search) where I can filter out my search even more clearly. Like I could choose "Sort by Date" or "Sort by relevance". I could put check marks on the news sources that I only want from the ones that Windows Live does provide. How about filtering results from the "last hour" "the last day" or even "the past week"? Maybe offer an archives for news to search through? How about throwing a big RSS icon button, to get the latest feeds on this search? Or even having it for Windows Live Alerts? Something like that maybe?
- Favicon or logo of each news site next to results – Some people would love to quickly identify which site they’re going to press for news. A favicon or a logo (even better) would be helpful. Maybe News Search could have a page giving a brief bio of each news site they provide. That would be awesome.
Pretty much, just give more ways for me to filter the exact news I want, and maybe a logo next to each news site to quickly identify what I want.
It’s pretty much ok. It seems to get the right results. I don’t really see how this one can improve. Although I don’t really like the web results right under the Maps results. There’s a reason why there’s a web search and a map search.
Another thing, I really can’t relate to, too much. I don’t really use it. Although Windows Live Expo could use some more work. It’s seems ok, but I think it can do better than what it looks like right now. I don’t know too much about it to make a real opinion.
Local Search: This one seems pretty much similar to Maps Search. I don’t really see a difference. Except that I think think Maps Search take you directly to the Live Maps program, and Local Search just gives you a list of restaurants with a non-interactive Live Maps. Maybe advertise and try to get more people to review restaurants and stores? I see a real lack of any user involvement in reviews of places. That’s all I can think of.
Other search engines:
Academic search: Not much to say. Just offer more content variety, and try to loosen the providers and get them to allow the full text. It also looks kind of bland? Could you liven up the UI with a new Windows Live UI kind of thing (pun – liven, Windows Live)
Books Search: I already gave my review of it
Feeds Search: I haven’t tried it before. It looks ok. Each result gave me an option to add it to my IE7 RSS feeds. I don’t know much about it to give a true opinion.
Live Product Search: It’s an awful mess. Really. The page is real mangled on my browser. I also hate it when there’s no images. It’s just so messy. Windows Live icons won’t show up. This should stay in beta, and not move out for a long time.
QnA search: I wish you could search also by tags, keywords in question, or keywords in description. Also, maybe a QnA user search. Maybe a Windows Live Alerts for any new question (doubt anyone would actually do that)? I think anytime there’s a RSS option, there should also be a Windows Live Alerts option.
Video Search: Pretty much the same comment I gave about giving more search option to filter out the ones you don’t want. I might look specifically for a YouTube video, or a Brightcove video. I might want a Flash one, or one that’s longer than 5 minutes. Just give me more options to filter the results I don’t want. Plus a nice page about all your (main) providers and a quick bio would be nice, if we’re new to one of them. A logo next to each video site to easily recognize it.
Other improvements to the Windows Live Search:
- Options and Advance should move to the top right of the page – to easily find it, and be more easily seen. Plus it looks better there.
- International flags displayed at the top right – probably at the left or above the sign-in/sign-out area. To more easily recognize which country you’re searching from. A Brazilian might consider this search term different from an American’s or Mexican’s idea of what it means. So international search should be more recognized this way. And flag icons of a country are best. Country names in text don’t get as much noticed as a flag icon.
- QnA advertising gets annoying – the little "Didn’t find an answer? Ask a real person on Live QnA" message under search results is annoying. QnA is still a beta, and isn’t as even fully done as Yahoo! Answers. So they should wait until it’s out of beta, and in better service, before pushing QnA.
- The Windows Live Orb resolution – At 100% on my IE7, it looks ok. But if increase it any more than that, you’ll see it get more low-res compared to everything else. They really need to fix the resolution on that Windows Live orb icon. It’s hideous at increasing magnification.
- More searches – Even though I just ran down a lengthy list, there could still be some more searches that Windows Live could make. How about a blog search engine? They could partner with Technorati and get lots of blogs (hopefully it’s fast). Lyrics search engine? So far, there’s no really other search engine that seems to do this. Actually, MSN Music should have official song lyrics on their site. Because most other lyrics sites, are full of spam, and sometimes not even the right lyrics. MSN Music or Zune Marketplace should offer lyrics. Or Windows Live could make a lyrics search engine. I would choose the first option.
That’s about it. Windows Live also needs to finish and work on those betas faster. It’s taking too long. I think if the Windows Live team could try what I suggest, and widely advertise it very well, they might get some new users. That’s what I have to say. Please comment.