Web searchers don't tune in with radio buttons

June 22, 2004

Web searchers could more easily zero in on relevant images, audio clips and video files if consumers made use of radio buttons, a technology literally at their fingertips, a Penn State researcher has reported.

"This is a technology innovation that simplifies and improves multimedia searching, but our research shows that very few people use it," said Jim Jansen, assistant professor of information sciences and technology. "Consumers just haven't caught on."

Jansen drew that conclusion after analyzing 3 million records submitted to Alta Vista for a 24-hour period in September 2002 and supplied to the researchers. At that time, Alta Vista was the seventh most popular search engine and displayed radio buttons or tabs to help consumers narrow multimedia searches.

His findings are detailed in a conference paper titled "An Analysis of Multimedia Searching on Alta Vista" which he presented at the recent World Wide Web Conference 2004 in New York. Co-authors are Amanda Spink, University of Pittsburgh, and Jan Pedersen, Overture Web Services Division.

Multimedia searching is a growing aspect of Web use. While search engines have included radio buttons since 1999, this was the first study of their effect on Web searching. The researchers determined that consumers who used the interface were likely to have fewer queries per session and use fewer terms per query than consumers doing general Web searching, Jansen said.

"With radio buttons, consumers expended less effort searching because their queries were satisfied more quickly and efficiently," Jansen said. "Radio buttons take care of information overload because they automatically eliminate a lot of irrelevant information returned from queries."

The Penn State researcher sees widespread use for radio buttons. Companies that rely on visuals to sell products or with clearly defined categories can benefit. So can government, military and educational sites where consumers need help sorting through what is otherwise an overwhelming amount of information.

So why haven't consumers adopted radio buttons? "It's hard to say why they aren't used, but they aren't part of the whole searching process," Jansen said. "Individual Web sites aren't using them either."

One reason could be that the current technology needs additional refinements to improve image searching, the predominant interest of multimedia queries. Image searches were characterized by increased query length and increased session length, indicating consumers had to work harder to find relevant images, Jansen said.

Penn State

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