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good enough is sometimes all you need...

I have been quite busy the last few days, evaluating venture capitalist firms , calling colleagues to rekindle old connections and mine them for leads on prospective investors. I have been refining my business plan and last night I spent all night compiling a presentation of the business model that I wish to seek funding for. The whole affair feels much like the type of research I had to do when I was a fresh college graduate. I had the sheep skin and a brain full of engineering knowledge, some practical experience and my voice. The search for a job was a job itself, daily searches of the newspaper and internet recruitment sites, setting up appointments and refinements to my resume soon was at its end about two months after graduation before I was able to land a position for which my practical experience was suited.

The difference between then and now is that instead of having a resume and a diploma to sell myself, I have a presentation and a business plan to sell my business. The same hunt for success is afoot but this time, my quarry are the elusive angle investors and venture capitalists looking to put some cash into the next big thing. Today I came across the TechCrunch.com website which provides news, resources and forums for start ups seeking funding. I was browsing the forums when I came across a funding search from a site called twerq . I read the posting and discovered the site was already launched and was just looking for more investments to fuel further growth, however when I visited the site and used the actual product I wondered to myself. "what problem does this solve?" and I couldn't come up with an answer. Apparently the site provides the service of searching the most popular search engines simultaneously and allowing access to the results in a single pane. Sounds convenient but it has several problems that are specific to search.

  1. People tend to stick to one search engine and that is that. Since I started using google search for all web search activities about 6 years ago I haven't had a need or desire to go to Microsoft Search or Yahoo search. Often the same results show up across all the sites (more often then not) so one is as good as any. Thus any single result list is good enough, there is very rarely any need to consult another engine and therefore it is unlikely to be useful to have tabbed results from each engine.
  2. Search is a "give me" online activity. People don't go to search to do anything but get the information they are looking for, sort of like the concierge at a Hotel. You don't care to ask him what his view on politics are (unless you have time to waste) you usually just want to know how to get to your room and who is going to take your luggage up.
  3. Once I am done searching the window gets closed. I rarely ever keep a search window open for access and since the accuracy of all the search engines is pretty good these days, chances are the initial query on the initial engine will return high placed results that are satisfactory for my needs and twerk's tabbed option goes unused.
  4. Finally, these days most web browsers allow the browser to initiate the search from a field, I use this field religiously on my firefox browser and the only engine loaded in my list is google. (Just checked that isn't true...yahoo is there but it might as well not be since I didn't know it was there until now!) Regardless , twerq would have to get itself into that list if it is going to even be loaded in my browser. Who types "www.google.com" to get to start a search any more if the field is sitting there ready to select?

It is clear that search results from a single engine are good enough for needs of pretty much everyone and for the other reasons mentioned above make Twerq's tabbed collection of the results something that is nice but beyond the needs of what people want. Some times "good enough" is as perfect as something needs to be. As if to confirm the fact that Twerq is probably not getting much traction from this tabbed search results feature is the recent launch of a new "hive" feature. Which frankly I am still trying to understand what problem it solves. It allows you to collect search results collaboratively with other Users who might be searching for similar things on the web. In essence it allows you to refine your query for media, stories or feeds associated with the target of your hive...but this if you think about it is nothing more than a second or third google query away. If you take a look at the Hive interface that pops down next to returned Twerq search results you will see what will likely scare away "Joe Internet" , goal criteria, collaborators, quick tags ...it just strains the mind as to how it would be useful beyond simply querying separately for images, or news related to your query. (remember the major search engines all provide these abilities) Again, it might be nice to collaboratively search for things, it is still an act that is done easier or just as easily using the traditional methods and therefore was "good enough" and didn't need any new solutions.

The old saying applies here, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

I did some more digging and found this page, which lists the settings for the twerq searched performed. I never knew that searching could be made to be so complicated! "Joe Internet" would be hard pressed to understand why there are so many options , let alone want to use them. I wish the creators of Twerq all success but unless they find a genuine problem to solve in an area in which a "good enough" service or product is not yet available, they aren't going to be doing too well on their funding search. Design by parsimony is a critical aspect of developing web technologies ...really any technology. Finding problems that most people would like to solve or that make their current actions take less time and effort to complete is the key to engineering solutions that take off in and of themselves without the need for superfluous, dials and switches to provide options for changing things that were never desired by the bulk of users in the first place.

Comments

Wesley Long said…
David,

Thank you for your post! I appreciate your objective opinion and I would even agree with you on a number of points. Search does have to be simple. While it may not be apparent we are working in that direction. I agree TWERQ may seem complicated on the surface and at this point maybe it is. You have to realize that we are still a young company and like any company there is always room for improvement.

What we are doing with TWERQ is creating a solid and innovative baseline of functionality. From that we can translate it into much easier mechanisms to truly make
searching easier. It is by no means a finished product and there is a lot planned or in the works already that will address a lot of what you are saying.

What problems are we trying to solve? First I think you are missing known issues with search. There most certainly are problems with misleading links and system gaming all connected with either advertising and or affiliate programs. That is only the beginning, even Google will tell you that. With millions of results on any given search, results like this make up a large portion of search results. That said there are millions of results on any given search and sometimes finding the right keyword is itself a search (refinement). While this may not be a problem for you it is for many. Additionally I would suggest that just because you don’t see a need to saving searches or having all your searches conducted from one centralized location that doesn’t mean others don’t. This is actually the reason why TWERQ has so many settings, so that each user can customize how it works for their own needs. If you want to just use one engine for your search you can still do that. Can the whole thing be easier, most certainly and we are working to achieve that goal.

The HIVE is a perfect example to both of our points. In my opinion, right now the HIVE is broken, we have a lot of work to do in order to make it as easy to use and simplistic as possible which can also be said for a number of our “advanced” features. Please also keep in mind our goal it to try new things, experiment, learn, refine and build quality product.
You can not learn without mistakes.

That said what problem does the Hive try to solve? Well if you have 100 people all looking for the same thing, or looking for material related to it and you have 10,000,000 results. Would it not be easier to get those 100 people to help each other sift through results and gather the best information and leave the misleading information out of the mix?

These are just some of the problems we are trying to solve and again this is only the beginning. As far as weather or not we are able to gain traction I can tell you that looking at our numbers our search count and member base continues to grow consistently. Granted the numbers are not huge currently with 1416 members, 6,000 unique visitors per month conducting almost 7,000 searches per month they still keep going up despite the fact we have not put much focus on marketing. I am confident that as things progress things will become much clearer and easier for everyone to use and there will be always more power under the hood so to speak if needed.
David said…
Wesley,

I appreciate your candor in illuminating what you feel are the deficiencies of your approach. It is only by taking a dispassionate look at your design that you can see the areas that need improvement. It is a rare company that admits this and makes plans to address the issues.

That said, I wanted to correct the impression that I felt Twerq's approach was doomed to failure. I don't, but given the entrenched nature of search leaders like google and others coupled with the unique elements regarding ease that web searchers see as the paramount efficiency criteria; trying to dig out a niche in this area is a difficult task. It is one thing to be able to identify a niche for power users or power searchers as it would be in this case, but these individuals IMO form an extreme minority of search users online. Moreover, so far the features that TWERQ provide are not distinctly unique from what can be achieved by multiple search queries as I mentioned in the first post. This leaves precious little ground for an extension to search functionality such as what TWERQ provides that would make it a profitable venture to pursue. I thought this was clear by implication in my first post but let me state it up front, the "good enough" aspect of search has two sides two it. From the perspective of the average "joe internet" the existing providers are "good enough", providing reasonably accurate results quickly for the bulk of users with an easy execution method. The other side is from the perspective of the technologists who are building search systems such as TWERQ, the "good enough" question here is answered by one thing, profitability, one question that that I would think the designers of TWERQ would have asked before starting of is this:

"Once we have build the technology and have it running, will we be able to earn a profit from the niche of individuals that will find our approach indispensable?"

The use of the word indispensable is important, as I've found it is this quality of a design that determines weather or not a user will go through what ever hoops may be necessary to use a new product. If the derived usefulness(read:revenue generation through use) on the part of the niche users doesn't exceed the required implementation effort(read:system development and maintenance costs), the feature goes unused and from the point of view of the company, becomes a net drain rather than a net gain on profits.

All that said, I'd like to apologize for not taking the time to suggest some possible ways that TWERQ could appeal more to a larger niche of users that may feel its features are indispensable. I always admonish people not to complain about things if they aren't willing to change or suggest change for them. So, to make up for that lapse, here are a few ideas I can think of off the top of my head that I think could broaden the niche for TWERQ:

1) Make it easier to engage the TWERQ unique functionality. Ideally, derive a mechanism to hide those efficiencies from joe internet. A perfect example of doing this on the main search page would be to merge by interleaving, the results from the different search engines. This would remove the need for tabbing entirely and allow all the results to be displayed on one page. Joe Internet wants the best results returned, he doesn't care which engine has them as long as they are returned as fast as possible. This is more difficult for TWERQ to implement but it makes the users life better, and in such solutions hide larger niches of users that would consider the feature indispensable.

2) Firefox, IE and Opera all have search bars in their browsers. It is critical for you to get TWERQ made into selectable engines for all three of those browsers. (Add in Safari as well) The more eyes you get on your technology the faster you'll spur adoption and if no on knows your search engine exists (because it isn't conveniently in the browser search bar) gaining traction will be an extremely difficult task.

3) The Hive, needs to be made more intuitive and like the tabs improvement, mentioned in point 1) should be brain dead easy. Hide the options until their utility at a given time in the searchers actions is maximized. Use AJAX to "just in time" display fields as users select options. Visual over kill causes people to just quit the page and not use or derive benefit from a feature, even if it might be useful to them. If a coder(like myself) gets confused at the current options, then you can guarantee grandma is not going to even bother.

So there, I've made some suggestions and refined my views. I thank you for stopping by and I look forward to seeing the changes that TWERQ will make as time goes by.

Much success on your efforts!

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