Designing for Informavores, or, Why Users Behave Like Animals Online

I'm currently reading through Peter Morville's excellent book Ambient Findability. It cites some papers that attempt to explain the search behavior of web users, starting with the berrypicking model:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

I don’t understand the 2 minutes bit-- that seems like a very long time. In the BBC article you link to, it says, "75% of the 1,058 people asked would not return to websites that took longer than four seconds to load. " That’s more like it.

salas - That’s per site, assuming the first page loads within 4 seconds. They probably read that page, maybe one or two more, and then leave. If you have to sign up for an new account within that two minutes, and it’s not instaneous, you’ve probably lost the user.

I wouldn’t say it has anything to do with the “basic principle of human laziness”, but with efficiency. If a particular search path doesn’t smell fruitful (so to speak), why should I keep following it? I need to Get Shit Done, not waste time searching. The sooner I find my information, the sooner I can get back to work.

“Users will click the back button nearly instantly when they don’t catch a whiff of the right information from the current page.”

This may be true for ‘Informavores’ who are still some steps behind evolution. As far as I can tell by observing my own online behaviour, I rarely need to use the back button, because I stick to the few sites (mostly forums) where useful information density is very high. The second option is always google groups for me, where the search is broader but sometimes more accurate. Detailed search result links already tell you a lot about the site behind it.

That said, your site’s one of the few I visit frequently, Jeff, for the information scent is very strong on your page :wink:

Excellent article, thanks for all of the information presented. This FINALLY explains something I noticed myself doing awhile back…in the era of tabbed browsing, now I can follow the scent of something via multiple tabs and not even worry about using the “back” button. I’ve often found myself with 10 tabs open, a little piece of information on each one that pertained to whatever subject I was reading about.

It would be interesting to somehow map or graph how many tabs, length of time spent reading each site, etc. until the thirst for information is finally quenched.

The back button? More like the X.

Doesn’t everyone shift-click on google results? The back button skips a beat even in the best case, and punishment increases for each click you get away from google.

I find myself in a number of annoying situations when I use click/back instead of shift-click/close.

The Jakob Nielsen comment “Progress must seem rapid enough to be worth the predicted effort required to reach the destination.” reminds me of a paper that I read on artificial intelligence. It defines curiosity as behavior which is expected to maintain or increase the rate of learning over an extended period (i.e. avoiding things that look easy to learn or that look impossible to learn). Even if human curiosity does not quite work this way, it does seem like a handy metaphor.

I agree that the Flash, heavy scripting, and other BS triggering warnings about popups, etc. will drive me away from a site FAST. Next up is somebody’s whizzy CSS layout that falls apart if you aren’t using the CrapMaster 3.14159 web browser the idiots tested on. And of course the opaque and useless home page and worse yet a redirect that throws you to the stinking home page leads to a big BACK click (or X) too.

Sometimes I wonder why more companies don’t have their web team’s product independently audited on a regular basis.

Another great post for reference, thanks Jeff.
Lucky for you I already have you on my iGoogle page… sniff-sniff

The back button?

Evoluted Informavores use mouse rocker navigation :smiley:

Yes, I am also alpha male when it comes to this. I have reached a stage where I can see from the Google result whether the prey will be satisfactory for my hunting.

There’s a lot of utility in the predictive and/or corrective power with well-designed search engines. When you browse a blog or forum that uses a custom search engine, you quickly experience how much of a difference there is.

For example, when I browse and search in Wikipedia, I don’t even bother with Wikipedia’s search box. Overall, it’s much faster for me to return to my browser’s address bar, search for a term with a single letter shortcut (“g VMWare wikipedia”), wait for Google’s results, and select the first or second one. The alternative via Wikipedia’s own search engine is both slower and more inferior in that I have to read and browse through the results.

I think there’s something negative to be said about websites that continue to stubbornly stick to their own homebrew, off-the-shelf search engine even though it creates an inferior overall search experience. These webmasters need to realize that they should consider the best tools for every task. There’s an ROI to every decision and sticking with inferior tools “just because” is a poor return for users.

2 Minutes is a long time for a speed reader.

Patrick, which sites are you refering to exactly? - Wikipedia is a very impressive site,BUT it has been “befriended” by google, which is why it’s quicker, and more relevant to search on google than on wikipedia for a wikipedia entry. Try searching for something in one of your emails in your hotmail account in google, and you’ll find you get no results. It’s horses for courses.

Yes it’s true “google” is awesome (everyone bow down to the god-gle - and don’t mention china!!
but its also creating a monopoly in the searching environment which isn’t always a good thing. creating your own search on your site creates a more complete and professional experience. Personally if I use a site that sells its soul to the google pop-up I loose a little interest and confidence in the site itself. More and more these days AJAX is powering very fast and clever searches which don’t require “google” intervention. I have written spiders, bots, and search engines - and I have never done anything “just because”, and quite frankly I resent being called inferior, just because I’m not using google pop-ups on my site.

I’m afaid left with the fact that I don’t quite understand your point? - what exactly is a homebrew,off-the-shelf search engine? is it like a clever,stupid comment?

This seems to reflect my experience as well use tabs to surf not the back button …

Site fails to load/has masses of flash/adverts/layout is broken within a few seconds then it’s onto the next site

Site does not seem relevant within less than a second then its onto the next site …

The ones that annoy are the sites that load quickly enough, look promising and then fail to deliver… those are the “two minutes” sites, these often are news type sites that cite a story (no longer available) about an article on another site that might be relevant and you have to read half the page to find out there are never going to say anything useful?

As others have mentioned already, between tabbed browsing and mouse options for the back function (I have back and forward for the 3rd and 4th buttons on my trackball, and miss them dearly when I don’t have the trackball connected to the laptop), the time spent on a seemingly irrelevant site is significantly shorter for a large number of users (even if it is still a small percentage of the overall user base). Besides that, with Google’s results page I only visit sites that don’t present seemingly relevant information when I’m really having a hard time finding what I’m looking for.

More often than not I’ll refine my search terms before I get to the second page of a Google search result.

Of course, tabbed browsing could also explain the 2 minutes per page: if I’m having a lot of trouble finding relevant results, I’ll open the next 4 or 5 links in new tabs and go through them, one after the other, trying to find something useful. So, it’s completely possible for a page to be loaded into my browser for several minutes without me looking at it at all. This is even worse when I’m actually reading information, as I’ll open links within whatever I’m reading in new tabs and let them sit until I finish the page I’m on, only to find later that I’m not really interested in the linked-to content.

Great stuff. I find this particularly true since much of my time involves researching minor things that I have no knowledge over (like macros for Excel or quirky oddity errors that occurs on servers I am involved in) and there usually are just so many paths to go down to find exactly what will help. First sign it’s a dead-end I go back to the search.

Franky, my left hand is almost always over the Tab and Alt keys, and my right hand (or at least thumb) can quickly jump off the trackball/mouse and hit the left key to go Back.

I also have found myself instead using new tabs to open each possible search result and then closing out each “dead-end” tab instead of going back. Makes it easier to open several different results - especially when multiple results are saying the same thing.

So that’s why I am always hovering over the back button while I am on this blog…haha

Joking aside, I would admit I am a victim of the informavore bug…

I think you’re right on the money, Jeff.
Great article.

I know when I’m looking in Google, I use ‘open in a new window’ for anything that looks like a good hit. If I don’t see something worthwhile right away, I hit the middle mouse button (which is mapped to close application).

My attention span when I’m seriously looking for something and/or shopping is about zero.

I think many large e-commerce sites take this very science into consideration. Land’s End is one of the best out there (not a plug and I’m not affiliated in any way… don’t even buy their stuff) because of their search. Try it and see how boss it is.