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Improving Amazon Search Results

Amazon_blackHave you ever searched for something on Amazon and found that it comes in several different flavors?  A couple of obvious examples are this search for "Harry Potter" and this one for "Windows Vista".  In the first case, everyone not living under a rock knows there are six (and soon to be seven) different volumes of Harry Potter titles while most folks probably realize the second example is going to kick up multiple versions of Microsoft's latest operating system. 

Rather than returning all of these versions scattered across the search results, why doesn't Amazon group them together horizontally?  In the Harry Potter example all seven of the individual titles might be the first thing that appears in the search results and they'd all be next to each other, left to right across the page (as opposed to showing up as numbers 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12 and 28 in the search results.

You might note that just about every item in Amazon's search results has a description that already occupies almost all the available horizontal space, so how could you fit more than one item in a row?  First of all, they'd need to stack the description a little differently to make better use of the room; for example, placing the author name below the title rather than next to it.  More importantly, they'd need to introduce the use of horizontal scroll bars so that the contents for that row/frame could be easily shifted left/right, independently of the rest of the page.

Would this require a fair amount of programming and interface adjustment?  You bet.  Would it create a better user experience with less confusing search results?  I think so.  It would also require Amazon (or the publishers) to provide the metadata required to identify all the family relationships.  Amazon is a data beast though, so adding one more field for every product record won't even cause them to break a sweat.

And before you think that this problem is limited to oddball products like the two I've listed, consider how many multi-volume products there are out there, not to mention all the books that are available in both hardcover and paperback.  I think this enhancement would come into play on a fairly regular basis.

Comments

Colin Carmichael

I agree with your assessment of the problem, but can't imagine horizontal scroll bars as an improvement... that's a usability nightmare! I think I'd rather see 'related' results collapsed into one result (the bestseller or the newest?) that could be expanded (and contracted) at the click of a button.

Speaking of multi-volume book sets - it would be really great if they'd be more clear about the order in which they are to be read!

Yacine

I think the layout display wouldn't really matter if the search result was more consistent.

I always find web searches to be maddening. And it's a big part of my job. What would be great is if someone could come up with a web result "bubble sort" kind of thing. In programming, the bubble sort compares 2 items of a list and swaps them if they're in the wrong order. You quickly end up with an ordered list.

Maybe once a search result is in, the most relevant results could be sorted with a more exhaustive set of criteria than they are when the whole database has to be scanned.

Hopefully, this makes sense. I don't know the business logic of search engines, and maybe they already do something like that.

Joe Wikert

Maybe the horizontal scroll bar solution isn't the best. I'm certainly not a UI expert, but hopefully the main point of my message came through. There are probably several ways to present a better interface than what I'm proposing. The key here is that the results should be aggregated in a more meaningful way, as a means of improving the customer/user experience. I've seen other solutions where smaller icons are initially displayed and then they balloon up when you hover over them, for example. There are probably other ways to skin this cat as well.

Jason

Ever use greasemonkey? http://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/748 It's a firefox browser plugin that allows you to make websites appear differently for you with only a bit of javascript coding. I've been toying with the idea of writing a greasemonkey script to rearrange amazon's search results into a form that takes advantage of the horizontal space like you suggest... If you want to give it a try, here's one that does something a bit different, it adds color and missing ranking information to amazon search results: http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/31472

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