Most interesting to me were the tidbits on how many users seemed to expect Google SMS not to work like a one-shot search, but more as a dialogue. Some excerpts:
At present, SMS is primarily used for 1-to-1 communication; Google SMS repurposes it to enable mobile search. We expected that this might be confusing to users, requiring them to adjust their conceptual model of the technology ....People at first expected Google SMS to work like normal SMS, like a conversation. They appeared to expect a back-and-forth of text messages, narrowing in on the information desired.
Most [users] had some initial problems understanding how it could be used for search. For example, one experienced SMS user wondered at first whether a Google employee would receive their query and reply with an answer ....
Several users started a product search task by sending a message like "shopping", expecting to enter a mode that would cause their subsequent messages to be interpreted as product searches. They were confused to receive an error message in return, telling them that their query had no results.
This does suggest an alternative model for mobile search using SMS. Perhaps the search should be iterative. For example, I could imagine this chain of SMS messages between me and a search engine:
Me: sushiOr this conversation:
Google SMS: A sushi restaurant in Seattle? Blue C Sushi in Fremont is popular. Directions? A recommendation for sushi somewhere else?
Google SMS: Saito's at 2nd and Lenoa? Red Fin at 6th and Stewart? Both highly rated.
Google SMS: Saito's Japanese Cafe & Bar, 2120 2nd Ave, Seattle (206) 728-1333
Me: price ipodI am glossing over some hard issues here. How would the system determine that a thread has ended and a new one begun? How would we reliably disambiguate and intelligently respond to iterative queries? What can we do to avoid searcher frustration if we guess wrong about user intent? How do we respond clearly in less than 160 characters in the general case?
Google SMS: Average price, 60G iPod, $383. Lowest price, $344, at PCMall.
Google SMS: Average price, 30G iPod, $322. Lowest price, $282, at Amazon.
Me: at apple
Google SMS: Apple.com, 30G iPod, $299 + tax with free shipping.
But, the user study seemed to suggest that Google SMS users do expect more of a dialogue model. While we can train users out of that expectation, I think the dialogue model has advantages for helping people discover and narrow down on what they want.
I believe this is also true for regular web search. Current search engines treat each search as independent, but that is not how people use search engines.
When I need to find something, I start with one search. If I am not satisfied with those results, I refine my query, changing it to something slightly different. If that doesn't get me what I want, I change it again.
I am repeatedly refining my search query, trying to find the information I need. But current search engines ignore this stream of related queries, this dialogue, instead treating each search as independent.
In both mobile search and web search, I think there is an opportunity for techniques that focus explicitly on this kind of refinement process, bringing all the information from the past and present to bear.
I think search should be a dialogue, going on for as long as it takes to help people find what they need.