SharePoint Search vs Explore Experience

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


I stare deep into the empty search box, and the cursor blinks back at me-- a mocking, existential question mark.  What the heck do I type in? Does it matter? Does anything matter? I iterate pseudo-random combinations of keywords, hoping to discover that one serendipitous, magical arrangement. Despair sets in.

The SharePoint Search experience (search results page) is often used as a one-size-fits-all solution, even when users really need Discovery.  Or both.  There are small, yet very important differences between the two.  More and more, I'm building portals with a separate search-based Explore page, along side the usual Search Results via the global search box.

In the (in)famous words of Rumsfeld, "there are known unknowns... but there are also unknown unknowns". It's the difference between searching for a particular book on Amazon, or just exploring Kindle Books -> Sci Fi. From personal experience, at least 80% of the books on my Kindle came from the latter!

Search helps users quickly get to stuff, when they already have a good idea what they're looking for. The flow is simple: Enter a keyword to search -> Refine down the results -> Profit.

Often though, I have no idea what's out there.  I don't even know where to start.  Discovery, therefore, has to be a loosely guided process. Users likely start by exploring predefined buckets of information using the search refiners, rather than entering a search term right away. When the search box is used, they are likely trying many different keywords to get a sense of what's out there, rather than zeroing in on a particular item.

There are obviously many, many different ways to build a good Discovery experience. It doesn't have to be search-based at all.  But it makes a lot of sense to leverage the power of Search if your items are neatly groomed and tagged with appropriate metadata.

In the next couple posts, I'll focus on some enhancements to make the OOB search results page better suited for exploration:


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