Early this year O’Reilly published Search Patterns, by Peter Morville and Jeffery Callender. This is Morville’s fourth information/search-related book. Search Patterns addresses the intersection of user interface and search.
Search Patterns is an absolutely outstanding book. I don’t get excited about search-related books very often but this one totally captivated me. O’Reilly sent me a review copy some months ago. It sat in a pile until I started seeing reviews and references to the book on the Web. The press prompted me to open the book.
The first thing I noticed in flipping through the book was the many high-quality color screen shots and illustrations. Plus, Search Patterns is printed on glossy paper to enhance the visual elements of the book.
At 173 pages (plus index) and a nice balance of text and images, Search Patterns is, at the surface, a quick read. But, there are numerous gems throughout the book so allow yourself plenty of time to read (and reread) sections that draw you.
I have to admit that I had a very difficult time planning for this review. That’s because I’m used to reading books that are very logical, very left-brained. This book speaks frequently in metaphor and connections between sections are not always clear. But, paradoxically, the writing and the logic are absolutely brilliant. As I hinted at in the previous paragraph I recommend you pick sections of the book you find interesting and read those sections as many times as you need to (along with related illustrations) to absorb the material.
Search Patterns has a preface and six chapters.
- Chapter 1: Pattern Recognition. Provides an introduction to the search problem.
- Chapter 2: The Anatomy of Search. Dissecting search into its components – users, interface, engine, content, creators, and context.
- Chapter 3: Behavior. A consideration of how users interact with search and how that should influence search engine design.
- Chapter 4: Design Patterns. A catalog of different mechanisms that support search – autocomplete, best first, federated search, faceted navigation, advanced search, personalization, pagination, and others.
- Chapter 5: Engines of Discovery. How content is organized.
- Chapter 6: Tangible Futures. Musings about the future.
My favorite things about the book are the many examples of search done right and also of search done poorly together with the many gems.
Chapter 1 has a great set of gems. Titled A Mapmaker’s Manifesto, this list of twenty items enumerates the authors’ beliefs and principles.
Zachary Spencer blogged some notes on a talk Morville recently gave. There are lots of gems in those notes.
Here’s a great interview with Peter Morville at JohnnyHolland.org.
This advanced praise quote by Dave Gray (founder and Chairman, XPLANE) sums up the essence of the book particularly well:
“It’s not often I come across a book that asks profound questions about a fundamental human activity, and then proceeds to answer those questions with practical observations and suggestions. Search Patterns is an expedition into the heart of the Web and human cognition, and for me it was a delightful journey that delivered scores of insights.”
I highly recommend Search Patterns to anyone who is designing a search engine, consulting on its development, or just wanting to understand why a particular search application is easy or hard to use. The book clarified so many issues I’ve seen (and continue to see) with search applications, federated or otherwise.