Tips from Google’s User Happiness Researcher

7/29/11 | 3:10:00 PM

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I'm Daniel Russell, and I'm responsible for “user happiness” on Google's Search Quality team. My team conducts user experience research to try and get the inside story on what people do when they search. We're constantly asking: What works and doesn't work for them? What are they looking for? What DO they want?

To understand the full richness and variety of what people do when searching on Google, we spend many hours in the field, observing as people search. We hear it when they're happy, and when they're terribly frustrated. And perhaps most importantly, we also pay attention to the things they don't say -- the inexpressible "gotchas" that get in the way of their search.

One of the ways I do this kind of work is to teach classes on Internet search skills. I’ve found that while everyone can use Google, some seem to be better at it than others. I try to capture those skills and pass them along to classrooms of students, teachers and librarians. I throughly enjoy showing folks how to search more effectively, and learning new tricks and ideas along the way from them!

I’ll be posting here over the next several weeks with tips and techniques that will let you use Google more efficiently and reflect a bit on the way search changes the way we research, study, write and think.

To start, it’s worth knowing that we’ve made a bunch of recent changes in the way you can search images, and I’d like to show you a couple examples.

Understanding a name: In today’s world, you sometimes only “meet” people virtually. If someone has a name that’s not common in your culture, you may not know if they’re male or female. Here’s a trick: just look for the name in Google Images, like [Nikhil], and you should get a pretty good idea. Here are a few other name queries you might try: [Xiaomei], [Aislan], or one that I had to look up, [Pelin].

It's simple enough, but if you haven't seen this kind of trick before, it's well worth knowing. And as these examples point out, what the image search results show you is a sampling of the possibilities, not a definitive answer.

Finding a book by its cover color: If you’re a visual type, you may find it easier to find a book by its color rather than its exact title. Suppose you want to find a book about Rosa Parks. You don't remember the title, just that it had a green cover. Try searching for [Rosa Parks book] in Google Images - adding the word "book" to the query will limit the searches to images related just to books.

Then, using the color filter tool in the left-hand panel, you can select the green filter and find only books about Rosa Parks that have a green color. Voila! You've found your green-covered book about Rosa Parks.

You can experiment with any query, even those that don’t obviously seem to have a visual component. Give it a try, and check back later for other tips!