So now all the excitement of the launch has settled down and we’re back into routine I think it’s time for a quick walk through the functionality (which won’t take that long since we haven’t put that much live yet; there’s a lot of interesting functionality left to come).
Hunting vs. gathering
Plenty of people go into a shop armed with a plan. They know what they want, or at least what specific need they need to fill. Others like to browse, look at what there is, what other people are doing, and generally wait for inspiration or recommendation. We’ve tried to fulfil both of those patterns using the both standard “search vs. browse” split, but have tried to improve both.
When you view an item, for example this orange Ghibli bag, we obviously show a picture, description, etc. and link to the retailer. All standard stuff for a shopping aggregator. What we’ve added is that we also show the most visually similar items in our collection, according to three different sets of criteria:
- We show the most similar bags by shape, so that anyone who’s interested in a particular style or type of bag can see them straight away.
- We show bags in the most similar colours, so anyone who was drawn to that bag because of its colour can see lots of other bags that they may also be interested in.
- We show products from other categories in the same colour, in case users want to colour-coordinate.
In addition to the regular search options you’d expect (category, keywords, etc.) we also allow people to search by the overall colour of the item (from the top right corner of any page). Now in terms of technology I’m not particularly happy with this functionality yet, but I’m a perfectionist. It already performs a lot better visually than the Amazon equivalent*, and I know that we’ve got big improvements in the pipeline.
* To be fair to Amazon their results are better than they look. The products they show are available in the query colour, they just choose to show only the first image, so their results look broken by visual inspection.
Back to the physical shop metaphor
What we’re trying to do is help the searchers search by enabling them to search using visual data, effectively the equivalent to training all the staff in a shop to be able to answer questions like “have you got anything that goes with these shoes?”.
At the same time we’re trying to help the browsers by sorting each department by type and colour, so they always know where they’re going.
Obviously this is fairly fresh territory so there’ll always be wrinkles that need ironing out, but on the whole I think the trend towards smarter indexing is inevitable, and the indexing of visual information is part of that (that’s a whole other post).