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In the ever-growing World Wide Web, the importance of web search engine is significant. Search engines have become one of the most essential sources for accessing information, as well as contribute to considerable traffic on the internet every day. It is generally acknowledged that impact which brought by web search engines is mostly positive, such as increasing convenience to our lives. Nevertheless, there are disputable issue concerning challenges in using search engines. This essay is going toâ€¦
Typically, when starting a query-based search, users simply enter a query in a search box. Search engines will examine information on the web according to algorithms, locate matching information and return list of relevant results to users. Because resources on the web are so abundant, such search results can be wide and varied; it is of great chance for users offered with large amount of unnecessary or irrelevant information, causing people find it hard to target what they really need. This is a result of the truth that most search engines are highly (or barely) dependent on literal keywords to do searching. As a consequence, to make search results match users' needs as closely as possible, effective communication between users and search engines is crucial. However, with respect to supporting user interaction, current search engines are confronted with some obstacles. These limits will be pointed out in the following.
The accuracy of search query is one of the prime factors in interaction between users and search engine. Search results can be disappointing based on unclear queries. To be more specific, this refers to various situations. First, it often happens when users and search engines use different sets of words to describe a same topic, or that their ideas and definitions for words vary (e.g. the use of synonym as search query). To illustrate the point, the variability of word-use has been demonstrated in different search engines; likewise, the variability affects the use of search terms both by expert searchers and novice when they request information from search engines (Furnas, 1988). The cognitive differences or variability can lead to significant number of unwanted search results. Without having enough clues to match users' needs, search engines will retrieve a very broad scope of documents and return a huge amount of results, which can make users find it hard to locate the exact information they need. For instance, the word "football" can refers to "association football", "American football", etc. Hence, a search term of "football" is not specific enough for search engines to identify the exact meaning to users; it will return results regarding all possible aspects of the word. That is to say, a lot of documents that are not relevant to the intended search question are likely to be retrieved. Users will need to filter the irrelevant results and look for the right information for them among the relevant ones; this will take plenty of time. Moreover, users may not be able to use the exact or descriptive search term to work on an unfamiliar topic. This can contribute to limited results which focus on the intended query and users may not get enough useful information from a search like this. All the above situations can attribute to the lack of sufficient interaction between search engine and users. Since users' information needs are not well known or fully understand by search engine, it cannot perform an effective search.
Another focus in interaction between search engines and users is the search engine results page. People have different preferences for search results display: Some prefer search results display as simple as possible while others like it to be a bit more informative. It can be explained as different user expectation of search engine support. For those who prefer a cleaner look on the results page, they do not want too many distractions. On the contrary, some users are in favour of a more detailed display with informative description and pictures of each result, which is considered as an assistance to determine whether the result is useful or not. In the similar way, if the search topic is well-known by users, they can locate what they need without detailed description of results provided by search engines. Conversely, users are hoping to see more when it comes to an unfamiliar search topic. However, not too much attention is paid by current search engines on different search results display preferences for different users. It is believed that there are room for improvement in interaction between search engines and users to relieve the problem.
Furthermore, it is acknowledged that a majority of textual information is given after users performing a search query. It may not be that user-friendly for individuals dealing with loads of textual information on the screen, considering that people are easier drawn by graphics than mere words. Thus, visual elements could be added to enhance the content and interaction.
In the meantime, for search engines nowadays, users' mood is not take part in the interaction. Users may encounter unpleasant information during the searching. When people make real contact with others, one's mood takes an important role and usually has strong effects. Therefore, if a search engine could be designed to display results considering users' emotions, being able to know not only what information is needed but also what is not needed, it would be more personalised and humanised.
Although interaction between current search engines and users is not comprehensive enough, more and more techniques are developed to eliminate the restrictions.
First of all, due to the diversity of designs and algorithms between search engines, easy-to-access instructions should be provided for search interfaces. Clear messages of basic and advance search strategies, tips for using search terms and operators (e.g. Boolean) should be delivered to users, thereby assisting them to perform effective searches.
In regard to the search query, there are suggested ways for improving accuracy. For example, research has shown that users are more likely to make intelligent queries in a bigger search box. To illustrate the point, a search box with plenty of space allows and motivates people to put more strings in; and the longer the search text is, the better precision it could be.
Furthermore, the use of "dynamic query" technique in search engine interfaces, which allows users to pass values to the query at runtime, is considered to bring plenty of advantages. Traditionally, the system starts to perform searching and displays results after users finished typing search query and press the "search" button. However, with the highly interactive approach, search results can be shown and updated continuously as users typing. Therefore, users can skim the results while typing, making appropriate refinement within seconds to match their information needs. It is also way to engage information seekers more closely by putting them in continuous control in the search process with a search engine interface like this (Marchionini, 2006 : 44).
On the other hand, interface techniques referring to the design of search engine results page also play a major part in improving users' search experiences. The purpose of the page is to assist users examining the desired information by providing a clear display of search result sets and helpful supplementary messages. In this page, the relevance between user's query and search result should be emphasised. For instance, the indicating and highlighting search terms at the top and in context in the results. Besides, search interfaces should be able to provide adequate explanation of each result to users, thereby supporting them to locate the desired information or make progressive refinement to their search (Shneiderman, 1997).