Two cheers for Technorati’s redesign

Technorati, the web service for monitoring links between websites has redesigned. And it’s a nice evolution: there are some good things like the clear technical writing, the progress indicators (good to have as the site can chug a while at times) and some incremental improvements to results layouts as far as I can tell.

There are two things however which are getting “on my wick” to use a UK industry term.

The first one is the repositioning of the search text entry box up into the “banner blindness” zone [see Norman after Benway, Lane].

It’s getting on a bit now, but Michael L. Bernard’s study “Examining User Expectations of the Location of Web Objects” still gives good guideline, IMHO.

“most participants expected a website’s internal search engine to be generally centered at the upper half of a web page”

search_eng_gif.gif

“most participants expected advertisements to be centered at the top of a web page. A smaller number expected it to be located at the bottom-center of the page. However, what may be most interesting is knowing where individuals did not expect advertisements to be located. That is, it is possible that advertisements may be more effective if they are placed in an area where they are generally not anticipated. This is because individuals may tend to ignore areas where they believe advertisements are typically placed. Supporting this argument, Benway (1998) found that banners located at the top of a web page tended to be ignored more often than banners located lower down on the page.”

ad_gif.gif

Let’s overlay these grids on the new Technorati design:

technorati_grid.gif

Not an exact experiment for all sorts of reasons, the old netscape chrome in Bernard’s study for one; but I’ve tried to scale the Technorati page as best I can. As you can see it falls just within the ‘banner blind’ zone.

But unfortunately, it gets worse.

When we did the first couple of designs of the BBC search engine, we were always trying to push for the 1/3 down and centre position for the text box. The place that stands out from Bernard’s study and, yup – the place Google and Yahoo have their search input box – their “command line interface”.

But what we also found in our testing (done by the wonderful Flow Interactive…) was that if the search box was in that ‘sweet spot’ but was, for want of a better phrase, ‘too integrated to the page’ i.e. boxed in, or sounded by other design elements – the banner blindness kicked in again.

Technorati has done precisely this – compounding the banner blindness.

In good faith, here’s a stab at a solution that:

  • Moves the tagline to the banner area
  • Moves the search input box to the ‘sweet spot’
  • surfaces some explanation on the baffling speech bubble that was previously next to the search input box BUT DID NOTHING

technorati_fiddle.gif

Okay – now I’ve got that out of the way, here’s the second and even more persnicketty criticism.

Whoever designed the logo would probably steal sheep*.

I know no-one who uses something as geeky as technorati will care about these things, and once technorati is not geeky it will be subsumed as invisible webservices sticking together our joyless smartmobbed eternal spotless blognow; but I just wanted to not only congratulate them on the design evolution, like the world and his weinberger have been with rather unqualified linkpraise; but offer some constructive criticism.

Really annoyingly anal-retentive – but hopefully constructive.

okay.

phew.

[* and yes, I know it's a misquote but tracked lowercase still looks bloody awful. My old boss at the BBC used to do it and it drove me spare. Maybe thats what sparked this whole rant... and not the search box placement at all...]

0 comments
  1. Tomski said:

    Matt, I could not agree more. You’ve just explained in precise detail what it was that was subconsiously bugging me about the technorati redesign.

    It explains why I always type my search term into the ‘words to excluse’ box on ebay’s search form
    http://pages.ebay.co.uk/search/items/basicsearch.html

    *AND* you found that exquisite Bernard link which I’d lost… possibly the single most useful piece of user-expectation research I’ve ever read.

    Right aligned fonts?
    Fcuk the fonts. Fcuk the paint.
    Live within your Veens.

    http://www.veen.com/jeff/archives/000503.html

  2. When you have a moment could you look at our site, and give us some pointers?

    We have a great product, great team, but need all the positive and/or negative criticism you have time for.

    Would also be honored to give you a copy of ActiveWords if you use a Windows machine.
    Regards,

    Buzz

  3. Matt,

    This is FANTASTIC stuff. Absolutely incredible. How can we go further with this? We want Technorati to be of service to you and to our users – and this kind of advice and criticism is exactly what we’ve been looking for. How can we take this further? Would love to talk more with you – drop me an email at dsifry at technorat dot com if you’ve got some time…

    Dave

  4. veen said:

    Nice observations, Matt. All spot on.

    Buzz: Pay for that advice. Seriously.

  5. It warms my heart that not one mention of the Jakob person has entered this discourse. That’s the good news – but what of the usage faces? R U satisfied with Technorati’s inclusion of faces or not? Should they be right aligned, as opposed ot left? What of teh scaling factors? No border?

    How can you sleep at night ignoring tehse issues. Or not.
    :-)

  6. quinn said:

    very cool analysis, matt! i wonder if anyone is doing eye tracking studies now, and how quickly habits are changing, what with the consistent ad words style? anyhow, so i think i can see the upside of this set up, as well. there’s a geographical heirarchy of information- the page’s chrome contains the functions, like search and login, and the interior contains dynamic information that changes when you seach or examine a feature. this brings up and interesting and difficult page problem…. namely, how do you create a standard user toolset without loosing it to blindness? even google puts search into the banner blindness area after the initial search is done. putting the search into the middle of the page suffers from losing the location of the tool whatever next step you take, and losing the user’s sense of toolset. and search won’t be pursued as often as it is in google. i think you’ve tapped into a major tradeoff in web page ui.

  7. Good points quinn! With the increasing variety of ad formats, I wonder about current user expectations. Those days on many sites you have to slalom among much more than simply a banner at the top to get to the content. I like how Matt puts text above the search box in his mockup, it looks like content so readers are likely to start here. Also, I agree that Technorati’s search box placement at the top makes sense within the site, especially once you’ve done a query (as you wrote, just like at Google, or for that matter, Yahoo).

    However, as far as the home page goes, since Technorati is above all a search engine, Matt’s advice makes sense. I wouldn’t necessarily try it on a site where the core experience is based on browsing, since search doesn’t always deserve so much emphasis (and it’s much harder to get right). Look at how Amazon.com introduces itself as a browsing site (best way to do profitable merchandising) but switches into “search engine mode” once you run a query (the search box moves from the left box to a central placement similar to the one Matt advocates, and moves back to a side box once you click on a specific product).

    I’m all for consistency, but as an introduction to a site and its most prominent scenarios, the home page might break the rules and get away with it. In this case, I wonder about duplicating the search box, i.e. put it both in the top navbar location (to be consistent side-wide, and for returning users) and within the body of the page, since it’s the core scenario you introduce people to.

    Note to David Sifry: while you’re at it, you might want to default the cursor to the search box, that can be done with some simple javascript.

  8. I think its worth pointing out that the Bernard sweet spot for search is really on applicable for search engines (which technocrati primarily is so my point may be moot in this instance) and their homepages. Sites that are actually home to real content (BBC, CNN, etc.) or have other application like functions will have to prioritize differently. Keep in mind that users have an attraction to the text entry field of a search box and have little trouble finding it even though its not in the sweet spot on content rich sites.

    Amazon would benefit from retooling their homepage with the Bernard sweet spot for search. Cnet would not.

  9. pb said:

    Also, the “Help” tab displays under the “Home” tab in my FireFox. I’m a bit surprised technorati went with a design that is so hard on the eyes. KISS.

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