[Wasabi Proposal] End user search language

Calum Benson Calum.Benson at Sun.COM
Mon Feb 19 05:19:53 PST 2007

On Wed, 2007-02-14 at 14:29 +0100, Mikkel Kamstrup Erlandsen wrote:
> 2007/2/13, Calum Benson <Calum.Benson at sun.com>:
>         On Mon, 2007-01-29 at 12:51 +0100, Mikkel Kamstrup Erlandsen
>         wrote:
>         > 2007/1/29, Jean-Francois Dockes
>         <jean-francois.dockes at wanadoo.fr>:
>         >         Mikkel Kamstrup Erlandsen writes: 
>         >         > Hi All,
>         >         >
>         >         > I put together a first take on formalizing an end
>         user
>         >         search language.
>         >         >
>         >         >
>         http://wiki.freedesktop.org/wiki/WasabiUserSearchLanguage
>         >
>         >         - Which of OR and AND has priority ? (does (A AND B
>         OR C) mean
>         >            ((A AND B) OR C) or (A AND (B OR C)) ?
>         >
>         > I guess it is standard that AND takes precedence over OR,
>         but maybe it 
>         > makes sense to reverse that in our case.
>         This is a perennial problem with designing boolean query UIs
>         for average
>         (i.e. non-mathematically-trained) users-- they expect "and",
>         "or" and 
>         "not" to mean the same as they do in everyday language, but
>         often they
>         don't.  E.g.:
>         -  User asks for a list of "blue things and red things", and
>         gets back a
>         list of things that are both blue AND red (which in many
>         contexts is an 
>         empty list).
>         - User asks for a list of things that are "not blue or green",
>         and gets
>         back a list of things that are every colour except blue
>         (including
>         green).
>         FWIW, this is why I personally prefer something like the eBay
>         search 
>         "language" to Google's-- I always find it easier to remember
>         how to
>         construct more complex queries, and they never involve typing
>         "and" or
>         "or" :)  (But of course, I'm not really your "average user"
>         either.)
> I was not familiar with the eBay search language. I must say that I'm
> not really thrilled at they way they use braces - ie. they are not
> subexpressions. Also - you have to read the language spec to know what
> they do. 

Agreed; as I said, I'm certainly not an average user either.

That said, most "average users" are probably doing simple, one
word/phrase searches most of the time in any case.  In which case, it
may be acceptable to have them read instructions when they need to do
something more complex, provided those instructions are sufficiently
memorable that they don't have to read them again next time.  I found
this to be the case with eBay's, but I often have to refresh my memory
with Google's-- perhaps, admittedly, because Google is better at finding
things without complex queries in the first place, so the need to use
them is much less frequent.

As others have said, though, it's pretty much vital to usability test
this sort of thing as soon as you can.  Fortunately, command lines or
other text UIs are often a lot easier to test than GUIs, as you can
often get by with just a pencil and paper.

CALUM BENSON, Usability Engineer       Sun Microsystems Ireland
mailto:calum.benson at sun.com            GNOME Desktop Group
http://ie.sun.com                      +353 1 819 9771

Any opinions are personal and not necessarily those of Sun Microsystems

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