Interview with Microsoft’s Grad Conn

My interview of the week is with Grad Conn of Microsoft. In the interview we take a detailed look at the unique nature of Health Related searches. Microsoft did a lot of user testing to learn about user’s needs and their state of mind when they are searching.

Among the interesting conclusions was that users were generally dissatisfied with health search results. Many of the returned sites were simple too technical for them, and they were not helping them accomplish what they needed. A good part of this is that the users don’t really know what questions to ask yet.

What Microsoft decided to do with this was create a dashboard. The dashboard includes a set of refinement links up the top. The refinement links are determined algorithmically, based on the most common related references in peer review journals. So if you search on diabetes, you will see the most common terms which are used in related journals when they write about diabetes. It’s a nifty way to help users quickly refine their search, while providing the most current relevant links on the topic.

In addition, Live Search presents a list of articles inline on the results page in it’s left column. These are articles that are targeted at helping the average consumer by providing information on the topic of their search. These sources are selected because of the authoritative nature of the source, and the material is generally introductory in nature, so a consumer can rapidly learn the basics.

It’s a great example of vertical search in action – where specialized information is accessed in a custom way, and presented in a custom way to meet the unique needs of the audience.

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