• Marketing Search: An Interview with Pete Bell of Endeca and Gabriel Weinberg of DuckDuckGo

    August 4, 2010
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    The Yahoo! Search team (explored on Sep 16, 2009) by Yodel Anecdotal

    The Yahoo! Search team by Flickr user Yodel Anecdotal (explored on Sep 16, 2009) (CC BY 2.0)

    As it turns out, librarians aren’t the only ones competing with Google. In fact, we’re not even the only ones offering an alternative to Google when it comes to helping people find information.

    There’s Microsoft’s Bing, of course. And Yahoo! Search, at least until 2012, when Bing will begin providing Yahoo’s search results (though some testing has already started). Combined, Microsoft and Yahoo! provide about 30% of the search results in the United States, but only roughly 10% of the search results overall; Google, at 63% U.S. and 85% overall pretty much owns search.

    Google’s dominance is one of the reasons many people get excited about alternative search engines. Choice is important, especially in something as important as access to Web-based information, and so is competition, which often leads to innovation. There’s often excitement leading up to the introduction of well funded and reputedly innovative search engines, such as Powerset (quickly acquired by Microsoft) and Cuil, both of which debuted in 2008, and Blekko, which is currently in closed private beta, but earned a positive review from Michael Arrington at the influential TechCrunch. Innovation in search is a good thing for many reasons, not least of which is the issue Paul Ford recently called, “the Barnes & Noble problem”:

    Until I was about 26 almost everything I wanted to read was in Barnes & Noble. Eventually they had less and less of what I wanted. Now B&N’s a place I go before a movie, and I get my books anywhere else. I’m increasingly having B&N moments with full text search ala Google. It’s just not doing the job; you have to search, then search, then search again, often within the sites themselves. The web is just too big, and Google really only can handle a small part of it. It’s not anybody’s fault. It’s a hard, hard problem.

    It’s possible that many ways exist to avoid the Barnes & Noble problem in Web search, but the two ways most companies seem to be trying at the moment are represented exceptionally well by Endeca and DuckDuckGo. Endeca, which provides search for Borders, Walmart, Home Depot, and many other large corporations and institutions (as well as North Carolina State University Libraries), will “guide users through asking and answering any question;” DuckDuckGo tries to out-google Google by adding features people want, removing annoyances, and finding out what’s working by engaging its users in a fun, ongoing conversation about their interests.

    I recently had a chance to interview Endeca co-founder, Pete Bell, and DuckDuckGo founder Gabriel Weinberg about their companies and their thoughts on search.

    Both of your companies provide search for specialized collections. Do you believe that people want a single, universal interface that will work everywhere or do they want an interface that’s been built to suit the collection they’re using?

    Gabriel: I think that vertical search engines can work if they are compelling enough, e.g. Kayak, which aggregates prices on airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, and helps people find good deals on travel. However, there are only so many verticals where they can be compelling due to business model, i.e. high transaction value.

    In general, I believe people want the “single, universal interface that will work everywhere.” At DuckDuckGo, I have a longer term goal to help people navigate towards vertical engines that may be better for them. I’m doing this currently in a completely self-selected basis via !bang syntax.

    If you look at each vertical, there is usually a search engine out there that produces better results than Google for that vertical. But no one is going to go to each of these hundreds of sites in specific situations.

    Pete: Good experiences are always designed around tasks—around specific users searching for specific content. And I’m using the word “search” to mean much more than the search box—I’m talking about all the navigation, visualizations, and content that helps people find what they need. Now, if you ask people what they want, they’ll say they just want a Google box. But if you test that against a task-built experience—say, image search at Jupiter Images—they’ll overwhelmingly pick the latter. Marti Hearst tested a great example of this as part of her Flamenco Search Interface Project on faceted search User Interfaces (UIs).

    Is it important for search interfaces to match the way people think or will people adjust their thinking to suit search interfaces?

    Pete: There’s a difference between zero-training and easy-to-use. Zero-training means it has to match the way people think, and for any popular public-facing website, it has to be fluid. On the other hand, there can be easy-to-use sites that take a few minutes to learn. They better become fluid after those few minutes though. For example, we’ve built some search applications for manufacturers that give their design engineers thousands of facets. They’re willing to spend a couple of minutes to orient themselves to get power-user features. First time I switched from a PC to a MAC, I was surprised that there was still a learning period, but it faded fast.

    Gabriel: If you want fast, low-cost adoption, I believe the interface should be as fluid and simple as possible. However, sites like Amazon have proved that you can push through User Experience (UX) with enough money. By which I mean basically what Pete said, in that if you are allowed to train people for a few minutes then you can end up with a better UX overall. Amazon has done it essentially via brute force, i.e. push through by simply being around long enough that people end up spending those few minutes over time.

    How do you weigh precision versus recall? Has your thinking changed along the way?

    Gabriel: I’ve been pretty much about precision from the beginning, in part because I rely on external APIs for the long-tail; that is, for less popular searchers, I rely mostly on the raw search results I get from Bing API 2.0 and Yahoo! “Build your Own Search Service”. I think my value-add for those types of queries is in added precision. But more generally, there are just so many Web pages out there and people don’t look at many of them (they choose from just the top few results), so precision is most important for general search. For specialized search I think it can reverse depending on the vertical.

    An example of a vertical in this context would be searching for bug reports. There are usually very few pages out there that have the exact output of your bug report, and if they exist, you want to find them. For things like that, we rely on Yahoo & Microsoft to have crawled those pages. For less specific queries we layer on top of those APIs some Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) stuff that, among other things, tries to extract the concepts/entities in the query and gives you pages more associated with them. For other queries where we know a vertical engine will give you better info, e.g. weather or complicated math, we will automatically query an API and display the better results—I think this is another form of recall.

    Pete: You can cheat the precision vs. recall trade-off. At Endeca, we’ve become disciples of the Human Computer Information Retrieval school, and all that Gary Marchionini and Daniel Tunkelang have done to popularize the HCIR model.

    When we started, it was orthodoxy that there was a trade-off between precision and recall. That assumes people make a query into a black box, get back a ranked list of results, and then either accept one of those top results or recompose their query. It’s the TREC evaluation model. But ranking is dubious—it conflates many dimensions of relevancy into a single score.

    With HCIR, there is no strict trade-off between recall and relevancy. Instead, you engage the user in a multi-step “conversation” with the data, as in a faceted search. You start with a probe query that returns a set of results. And then the system characterizes the set—it tells you the attributes and facets associated with that set. That helps you refine to a subset, then lather, rinse, repeat. The trick is to treat search as a set retrieval problem instead of a ranked list retrieval problem.

    For example, if your task were to find a photo of dogs with kids to illustrate a book jacket, and all you had was a classic search box, you’d probably maximize for recall with some searches like “dogs kids jpg” or “dogs children photos” and then eyeball the results. But with HCIR, the system has a chance to teach you about the results. Back to Jupiter Image search, we could search for “dogs,” and then discover facets about ages, concepts, and image technique, and use those to whittle down. You’re returning a set of results, and then learning about subsets. The effect is that you get unexpected results that you could never hope to discover with keywords.

    What usability testing methods do you find most informative?

    Pete: Agile testing is best. Make mistakes often and learn from them quickly. I’m with Jared Spool—you can learn a lot, inexpensively, by testing a small set of people and iterating.

    Gabriel: I find natural feedback coming through the site to be most informative. Often this kind of feedback comes from users who have put in a lot of thought. I’ve also found Reddit comments from ads to be particularly informative, especially for first impressions. Finally, I’ve gotten use out of PickFu. I have plans to investigate usertesting.com and feedbackarmy.com as well, but haven’t done so yet.

    Can you expand on “natural feedback”? And how you’ve used Reddit and PickFu?

    Gabriel: By natural feedback I mean feedback that flows from real users using your site. On DuckDuckGo, there is a feedback button on every search result page (in the lower right corner). Most of our feedback comes through there and is in a “natural” context of searching for something particular.

    I posted a PickFu review on my blog. Basically, it is good way to get quick opinions on two choices. People vote which one they like better, but more importantly they give you their take on why, which provides some insight into what people were thinking.

    Reddit is more straight advertising, but with each ad there is also a comment thread. Reddit users are known to actually check out things and report back in comments, and they luckily do this for Reddit’s ads as well. But that’s not all, because you can actually engage with Reddit users as well, and have conversations about your product. All in all, it is a great feedback experience.

    Guest question for Gabriel (courtesy of Andrew Nagy1): “How are you positioning DuckDuckGo differently from Google in terms of user interface and user experience? What sort of new UI concepts are you evaluating that Google is not already doing?”

    Gabriel: On a feature level, our about page attempts to answer this question directly: But at a higher level, I’m trying to make DuckDuckGo results pages more readable and understandable. A lot of the features are in this vein. For example, I put Zero-click Info on top, which is readable topic summaries (sometimes full paragraphs) from crowd-sourced sources like Wikipedia and Crunchbase. Other examples are labeled official sites, human-edited link titles and descriptions (also from crowd-sourced sources), disambiguation pages, and fewer useless sites in our results pages. Another angle is discovery. I provide related topics (as opposed to related searches) and category pages, which are groupings of topics of a similar theme.

    How closely do you think profitability aligns with quality? In evaluating your competition, do you get the sense that it’s the better engineered search products or the better run businesses that are succeeding?

    Pete: Just to set the context for Endeca, in our market, our customers want to customize a search experience for their specific users and content. There’s a healthy market for one-size-fits all sites generated by inexpensive appliances, but that’s not our market. NCSU, WalMart.com, and ESPN have different experiences from each other. We call these search applications.

    There are a few ways to go about that. You could invest many, many, many millions on in-house developers, like Amazon and eBay did. But our customers choose the platform route—they’re buying Endeca’s “Legos,” and partnering with our services team to design their site.

    Now, that’s a complex project. It brings together teams from two companies that haven’t worked together before. And it mixes a lot of specialties—user experience, application development, information architecture—that might not understand a lot about each other. My friend Joseph Busch does high-end taxonomy and document management projects, and he likes to joke that he’s 5% a library scientist, 95% a social worker.

    People tend to focus on technology when they’re planning a new site. But with projects like these, business process, user experience, support, professional services, education, and so on all matter, too. So to answer your question, in the search applications market, technology is part of it, but execution matters just as much.

    Gabriel: I think it is product for the most part, at least for general search and with a few caveats. Google’s share just kept climbing and climbing, and I think that is largely due to its product. Recently, Bing canceled their cashback program after tons of money because it presumably didn’t yield new customers. That’s more evidence of product dominance.

    The first caveat is distribution deals. A lot of people use what is in front of them, and sometimes have no choice. It’s very hard (if not impossible) for a startup to capture those distribution deals since Microsoft and Google have so much money behind them.

    The second caveat is, without distribution it is very hard to get people to switch search engines. All the recently well-funded search startups who failed are evidence of this fact. I think they didn’t wow people enough in the product, however. But the bar is pretty high.

    The third caveat is brand. Google did a study comparing its results with its competitors’ and found a huge implicit trust from using the Google logo at the top. They earned that, but that is additionally hard to overcome for a startup (or even for Microsoft).

    What are your thoughts on expert search features, such as specialized syntax or regular expressions?

    Gabriel: I’ve been trying to “walk the line” in this arena, by offering specialized syntax that I think could get mainstream support from power users. I think regular expressions are a bit out there for the normal user although I did already incorporate them in some capacity already (though probably not what you meant): http://duckduckgo.com/?q=regexp+/(.*%3F)+(.*%3F)+(.*)/+duck+duck+go.

    Something I think more walks that line is the !bang syntax I created where you input !amazon x in the search box and it searches for x in amazon. I think that’s easy to grasp and it is useful. Additionally, I think it can help market to specific groups of users, e.g. I also added hex color codes and unicode query responses.

    Pete: You know the rule of thumb that 90-odd percent of users never change the defaults. Whatever the number is, it’s increasing. That said, it’s not fair to round down to zero and say that the few people that do use expert features don’t count. They tend to be some of the most valuable users. We’ve got extensive XQuery hooks into our engine that make it possible to build up some great queries.

    What do you think of Wolfram Alpha?

    Gabriel: As a collection of cool data that gets aggregated usefully in response to queries, I love it! As a standalone product, however, I worry that it will die for lack of a business model. I think a lot of what they’ve done would be great in a search engine, and I’ve tried to integrate it as much as possible into Duck Duck Go (see Duck Duck Goodies).

    Pete: There’s a continuum of search tasks that range from fact finding on one end to discovery on the other. (Fact finding: Who wrote Ulysses? Discovery: Which Irish writer should I read on the beach this afternoon?) Wolfram Alpha is really cool for fact finding, and lousy for discovery. You can’t have discovery without human input—HCIR.

    What do you think of WorldCat.org?

    Gabriel: I had not heard of it until this moment, so this is a first impression. I’m not the target customer since I haven’t checked out something from a library since college :). But I imagine this could be really useful for people who do check stuff out from libraries, i.e. students, researchers, etc. The implementation seems a bit cluttered and I’m not sure how big that market is. I suppose the business model is clicking through to Amazon or whatever; it’s an empirical question on how much that actually converts.

    Pete: I enjoy WorldCat. They’ve done an impressive job on their primary mission. That’s sincere—I’m not damning them with faint praise. But if you want me to focus on search and give constructive criticism, there’s a lot more they could do.

    If you hold up some great sites as the bar, you’ll see ideas WorldCat should adopt on user experience, relevancy, text mining, and visualizations. Just to name a couple of sites, IEEE Explore and Food Network both have ideas that could improve WorldCat.

    And if you expect OCLC to take a leadership role, they should push the bar on searching digital collections: full text, images, multi-media. We’ve been working with the JFK Presidential Archive on their next generation site to search their digital archives. That’s given me a real appreciation for how big the challenges are on searching digital collections. There’s a lot of work to do, and it would be good to see OCLC start experimenting.

    If you’re interested in hearing more from Pete Bell, I recommend his always interesting contributions to Endeca’s excellent Search Facets blog as well as a very good interview with him conducted by Steve Arnold. For more on Gabriel Weinberg, I recommend his superb blog, book (still a work in progress, but we get to follow its development online), and the DuckDuckGo community for educators and librarians.

    Thanks to Pete Bell and Gabriel Weinberg for participating in the interview, to Andrew Nagy for his question and his assistance with the article, and to my Lead Pipe colleague, Ellie Collier, for her comments.

    1. Andrew Nagy, an open source evangelist and library technologist, joined Serials Solutions in late 2008 where he has been an evangelist for Discovery services and seminal in the development of [Summon] (http://www.serialssolutions.com/summon/). Prior to joining, he was the Technology Development Specialist for the Falvey Memorial Library at Villanova University where he was responsible for developing many innovations, including VuFind , an internationally adopted open-source Library Discovery solution. []

Please read the comment policy before posting: 7 Comments

  • caleb tr says:

    Librarians compete with Google? Can you explain that with more than a flip remark?

    • Thanks for your questions. I’d be happy to talk about librarians competing with Google, though based on your questions I’m not sure which aspects interest you or how detailed you want my response to be. I guess it’s safe to assume the information available on these websites doesn’t meet your information needs.

      Not to get all reference interview on you, but what kind of response from me would make you happy?

      • caleb tr says:

        Sorry, I realize that I was being a bit flip myself, and I apologize.

        I read your post, and I understand that you are discussing the kinds of things that libraries can learn from search engines, that Google isn’t the only option. It is a great conversation to have, and kudos to you.

        Your lead sentence, “As it turns out, librarians aren’t the only ones competing with Google” sets off alarms because you are stating something as fact that needs to be weighed and discussed. So please respond in whatever way you feel is appropriate, given the context, but I hope that you, or someone else, can give a reasoned explanation for why you think what you say is true.

        “Librarians compete with Google”.

        I think this simple statement is empty, as evinced by your link to a Google search for ‘librarians “compete with google”‘. Very few of the links in the first few pages come close to addressing my question, and the fact that you posted the link at all suggests a deep lack of understanding of the difference between the work that librarians do and what companies like Google do. But that doesn’t seem likely, so I’m guessing you were responding to me as a potential troll.

        What do we mean by ‘compete’? Do we mean that libraries, as non-profits and government agencies vie for the revenues and markets that for-profit corporations like Google do? I’m as cynical as anyone, and there are definitely corporations that want to end all taxes (at least on themselves – there are no subsidies without taxes), but I don’t think that is what we are talking about here.

        Do we mean that libraries and search engines, as providers of information, are essentially providing the same services, and therefore, “compete”? Your biography on this site says you are a public library director, and I find it hard to believe that anyone would put early literacy efforts, providing study space or access to the internet in the category of things Google does.

        The idea that people go to libraries for information is a myth. People go to libraries for the information they think can be found in libraries. For most of us, it is a pretty narrow scope. George Needham wrote in the OCLC blog It’s All Good in January 2006 comparing a 1947 report on public library use with OCLC’s Perceptions… report from 2005, “The biggest consistency has been in people failing to see libraries as a primary information source” (http://scanblog.blogspot.com/2006/01/public-use-of-library-and-other.html).

        But you might also mean something a little deeper, that there is a perception that with Google, people don’t need libraries. Or with Amazon.com, people don’t need libraries. And so, libraries must “compete” to prove their relevance. I’m paranoid enough too hear some of those voices saying these things, so I can get behind this definition. But I still don’t agree that that search engines actually do the things that libraries do, or that they will, or that we should pretend to “compete” with them in one of the above senses. No, instead, we should look to set ourselves apart.

        Vivienne Waller, in an article for FirstMonday argues that Google and public libraries have fundamentally different missions (http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2477/2279). She argues that the drive for profit competes (if you will) with the drive for public good.

        Libraries are not here to make money. Our goals are to help our communities thrive, to give citizens and scholars vital tools to make our world better. Sometimes I wonder what an algorithm for ranking search results would look like if it were designed to help people be free instead of to make money.

        I think also that business-speak is dangerous. It is often helpful to understand how businesses operate and the innovations they produce, but in the end they are not a good model for the public sector. Seeing ourselves as competitors blinds us to the real possibilities and potential for libraries. You asked one of your interviewees to look at worldcat.org, and he says, “I suppose the business model is clicking through to Amazon or whatever”. Why should WorldCat.org need a business model? Is the idea of a non-profit technology company so unfathomable? Is it that from a business perspective, resource sharing doesn’t make any sense at all?

        I love Waller’s closing paragraph and will resist quoting the whole thing. Most of all, I want to point out that she suggests that “There should be endless and difficult debates”. Thanks for the opportunity.

        • Thanks for your follow-up response. Discussions like this one are one of my favorite aspects of the Lead Pipe. And I’m particularly pleased that you brought another non-librarian into the discussion. I like it when non-librarians share their knowledge with us and I like it when we pay attention to their ideas.

          As for your questions and critiques, I think much of our disagreement may be semantic.

          Before I was hired to work at my local public library, I worked at Temple University. To get from my home in South Jersey to Temple’s North Philadelphia campus, I could drive myself in a car or I could carpool or hire a taxi or take various forms of public transportation (rail and buses) offered by two different organizations (one based in New Jersey and the other based in Pennsylvania) or ride a bicycle or run or walk. There are various additional decisions implied by the above: which bridge to take, what kind of car to use, which car pool, what kind of bicycle, what kind of running shoe, running shoes versus running barefoot, and on and on.

          I have no idea if my commuting options (or, rather, the people who work for and champion the institutions behind these options) believe they’re competing with each other or if they believe they can “set themselves apart,” take their ball and go home, and distance themselves from the choices I make regarding the money, time, and loyalty I will invest in the method or methods I choose for getting to work. While I don’t know what they believe, I know what I believe: the word that describes the relationship between these institutions is “competition,” and that they are “competing.”

          I also believe that what you’re suggesting librarians do to distinguish our services from Google’s is called branding. Using the philosophy and methods involved in a branding-based business strategy might be a useful way for librarians to “set themselves apart,” which I’ll define as competing more successfully with Google, as well as companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Netflix and Audible and Starbucks, to provide goods and services that people who rely on us find valuable.

          I agree that “business-speak is dangerous” when it is used by people who aren’t interested in the lessons business has to offer, just as sports analogies probably shouldn’t be used by people who don’t like sports. There’s nothing wrong with disliking business or sports, but I think it’s important to recognize that some people have developed pretty sophisticated ways of describing how they work, and if you don’t understand the vernacular or the ideas then statements you make about them might not make a lot of sense to people who do.

          Unfortunately, even though the author of the article you cite above, Vivienne Waller, seems to have very little interest in business, this doesn’t stop her from occasionally trying to play business analyst while writing about Google. For instance, she concludes one of the longer sections of her article with the following sentence:

          “Whether one thinks that Google is more likely to end up having a monopoly on information or is more likely to go broke, the issue is one of the lack of public control over a private company.”

          1. So is Google going to take over the world or go out of business? Because if what actually happens is anywhere between those two extremes then her concerns don’t make much sense. And if both scenarios seem equally likely her concerns don’t make much sense, either.

          2. There is public control over Google. Corporations deal with a significant amount of regulation, especially in Google’s home country.

          3. Google is not a private company. It went public more than five years before Waller’s article was published; in addition to its regulators and its customers, Google has to answer to its shareholders.

          I won’t address every point in your response–I realize this response is already far too long–but I want to address some of your final points. In reverse order:

          * “Is the idea of a non-profit technology company so unfathomable?” Are we talking about OCLC? Sorry, that was flip. Leaving OCLC out of it for the moment, my last job before going to library school was with a non-profit technology company. We had a business model. Every non-profit has one, even if they haven’t drafted one and none of their employees believe they do.

          * “Why should WorldCat.org need a business model?” Because it needs to appeal to people and because OCLC’s servers and programmers and other expenses don’t pay for themselves.

          * There’s nothing to stop anyone from making a PageRank competitor “designed to help people be free instead of to make money.” There are open source alternatives for just about every major piece of consumer-focused software. Here’s my theory: it wouldn’t look all that different from Google’s algorithm. I believe Google is interested in meeting people’s needs rather than dictating what their users want. True, Google is now popular enough that there’s no longer much of a control group. But Google’s business model does not seem to be predicated on dictating people’s happiness with their search product. Which is why DuckDuckGo and Endeca are so interesting to me: their business models are also centered on meeting people’s needs.

          * I’m not sure what public libraries’ goals are and I’m growing more and more certain that no one does. I see a lot of statements like, “Our goals are to help our communities thrive, to give citizens and scholars vital tools to make our world better,” as you wrote above, and, as Waller writes, “public libraries aim to provide access to information in order to strengthen democracy.” Personally, I think these are the truly empty statements. What do these statements actually mean? Where’s the testable hypothesis? Where’s the data? Where’s the accountability? Ultimately, that’s what interests me about acknowledging our competition with Google and other companies, and that’s what I hope we can learn from people like Gabriel and Pete. I think entrepreneurs generally know if they’re doing a good job. As the director of a public library, I have nothing trustworthy to use in determining whether I am.

  • caleb tr last time i promise says:

    Semantics, yes, I think it is important. It is the study of meaning!

    I think your transportation analogy illustrates my point perfectly. The corollary to librarians might be bus drivers, and the corollary to Google might be General Motors. One provides a professional service and another is a company that makes several products that perform similar, but fundamentally different services. One tries to help a community thrive, the other seeks to profit. They serve entirely different needs and play entirely different roles in meeting them. “As it turns out, bus drivers aren’t the only ones who compete with General Motors.” But I see also with a really broad field of vision, yes, they are in the same category (ie, the 380s?).

    But really, not to harp. This is fun stuff to think about. I contend it is damaging to libraries to frame ourselves in the rhetoric of the private sector. When we use their language and systems of evaluation – competition, branding, return-on-investment, business model – we de-emphasize that libraries provide a completely different way of understanding and bettering the world.

  • ellie says:

    As someone who really hates business speak, I see both (maybe even more) sides here.

    It’s important to be able to speak to our funders in a language they understand. Business speak is just one of many languages with annoying buzzwords. Education has its own annoying buzzwords. (I’ve seen eyes glaze over when the word pedagogy comes out.) Annoying buzzwords shouldn’t stop us from pulling out whatever valuable information lies beneath them.

    I’m lucky to be in an academic institution where the currency is primarily student success (which sometimes draws its own eye rolls) rather than dollars and I’m lucky to not be in a position where it is one of my main responsibilities to be able to justify the library or our funding to higher ups, but I’ve seen some of those conversations in action and it’s important to be able to talk the talk if you want to be able to fund whatever items and activities you are planning to help your community thrive. And it’s a very very different talk depending on who you’re asking for money as Brett explained in his talking to donors article. (http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2010/what-your-donors-and-would-be-donors-wish-you-knew/)

    The other aspect that I think is important is that the business sector has been studying and publishing on these topics and has valuable research that we can learn from. As much as I might instinctively dislike terms like branding, marketing, and PR, the fact remains there are better and worse ways to interact with your patrons and if people are hiding those better ways under terms I don’t like, I’m the only one who loses by ignoring them.

    That said, I also agree you can lose your staff if you switch over to using the same annoying buzzwords with them. I signed up for a certain type of job which was distinctly not business focused and am much more likely to be motivated by language and systems of evaluation that play to my beliefs in what a library is and should be.

    There will always be articles and books saying how we all need to do X, and taking on a more profit sector approach has had its turn as X. I think it’s that “we all need to” approach that turns normal words into those annoying buzzwords. I hope in general, you won’t find those “you must” admonitions here. We tend to fall into, “is there anything we can learn from X and apply to libraries?” I’ll call back to Char’s recent post about librarian as shapeshifter. (http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2010/librarians-as-__________-shapeshifting-at-the-periphery/) I think it’s valuable to be able to understand as many approaches to a situation and motivators of people as possible so we can be more informed about what is likely to give us the results we want.

    Broadly speaking, in order for these two entrepreneurs to succeed, they need to have a product that people use (that would be true whether they’re for profit or not). So their discussion of user behavior in terms of information seeking is interesting to me. In particular I like the idea of making user feedback at the point of the problem (on our website in particular) a simpler process. I just looked, and once you’re in my library’s catalog there is no button to ask a librarian or provide feedback. Providing search may be only one of the many things we do, but it is something we do and I’m happy to see how others approach it and what I can learn from them. Now I need the next article to be on working with committees to implement the cool things we learn…. (Great recent Shelf Check on this – http://www.toondoo.com/cartoon/1998046)

    So Caleb, I’m with you that I don’t think it’s the only way we should frame ourselves, but I do think that we shouldn’t ignore good research that we can use. Thanks Brett for the interesting questions and Gabriel and Pete for taking the time to answer them. I’ve already sent the article, highlighting the natural feedback section to our web team.

    On a more personal geeky level, I love the precision v. recall discussion. Thanks again.

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