Archive for July, 2008

I was informed by Mr. Michael Douma, Executive Director of Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement (IDEA), about his recent study on Finding Information: Factors that Improve Online Experiences yesterday. Mr. Douma was kind to invite me to read the executive summary of the report and provide me a link to download a PDF version of the findings.

This is an interesting study. IDEA conducted this study to determine how people find information online and how the experience of Web site visitors can be improved. The intent of the IDEA’s study is trying to improve the ways people interact with technology.
The study covered three groups: non-profit organizations and cities; web designers and firms; and the general public and attempted to answer the following questions:

  • What makes a Web site effective?
  • What factors contribute to visitors’ enjoyment of a Web site? Does this vary by segments within each population?
  • From a visitors’ perspective, what factors determine a quality Web site?
  • Are there differences between visitors’ needs as perceived by organizations and designers, and those reported by visitors themselves?

The study received 563 clean responses from nonprofit organizations and cities, 250 from web designers and firms, and 1,675 from the general public. Major findings are:

  • Designers underestimate the thresholds for an effective site. Visitors have higher expectations for effectiveness than do designers.
  • Easy access to complete information is key to visitor enjoyment.
  • Good visual design and up-to-date information are critical.
  • Visitors want information fast.
  • Visitors want a broad range of topics.
  • Designers are overly optimistic about visitors’ ability to maintain orientation.
  • Visitors still need handholding.
  • Visitors point to the lack of breadth and depth of site content as causing an “Information Gap.”

As an online educator, I think the results of this study provide many useful information and ideas on designing educational Web sites or online courses that allow learners to easily find information and orient themselves on the Web site. For more details about the study as well as its findings, you can download the 17 page report in PDF at: http://www.idea.org/find-information.pdf

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A new search engine, Cuil, was launched last Monday to aim for delivering better results than other major search engines by searching across more Web pages and studying them more accurately. Cuil, created by former Google engineers, tries to take on the search engine giant, Google. Cuil claims to be the he world’s biggest search engine that covers 120 billion Web mages (about three times as many as Google and ten times as many as Microsoft). Besides relying on superficial popularity of a Web page, Cuil analyzes and ranks pages based on their content and relevance and the groups similar results under different menus.

After you perform a search, Cuil will show you “Tabs” that suggest ways to clarify your search. In addition, you may see a “Explore By Category” panel on the right-hand side that provides you a list of subjects related to your search.. If you click on one, Cuil will direct you to this additional information. By looking at these suggestions, you may discover search data, concepts, or related areas of interest that you hadn’t expected.

Cuil provides you couple options on the Preferences. You can enable typing suggestions and perform a safe search that filters pornography or other objectionable material from your search results. Although the safe search cannot guarantee that all objectionable material are filtered out, it is helpful for teachers and students in K-12 settings.

So far, I like my search experience with Cuil. The interface is intuitive and the search process is fast with a return of good results and suggestions. The major weakness I experienced so far is the images on the search results seem completely random which often have nothing to do with the result entries. However, I will continue to try it out as my default search engine for the next few weeks.

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