When I first started using gmail, I was shocked: “What? no folders??…” I couldn’t figure out those funny labels, and searching my emails instead seemed a strange idea. Nowadays, when I have to locate an old email, I pray that it’s on gmail and not in my Outlook (even with Vista’s improved search).
The dilemma between search and browse paradigms runs through many software user interfaces, and was especially emphasized with Google’s focus on search in their products. In some areas, such as finding web sites, the search paradigm has undisputably won and the once-king Yahoo! Directory barely has a stub article in Wikipedia. In others, such as news, search is a rarely used service, and a portal-like browse interface rules.
But in reality these are complementary paradigms, rather than competing. Browsing is excellent when the data fits a clear and sufficiently granular taxonomy, shared by the author and reader, and unstructured searching fits into all the other cases (and in some cases, like web search, that’s all there is). Oh, and one more difference: search is A LOT easier. Just stuff all the text into strong index machines, and give the user the ubiquitous search box.
With gmail I wouldn’t think twice before moving an email to the archive, I have no doubt I’ll find it when needed, and all the hassle of managing folders is gone. A blog is no different. You have an author communicating a heap of knowledge to readers, and instead of sorting it for future reference in tags and categories (the complete opposite of “…a clear and sufficiently granular taxonomy…“) they should be gmailized – stuff them in an index and search.
Ah, you say, just embed a blog search box. Sure, but I have dozens of blogs I want to search in. So use some blogs search aggregator, you suggest. But I don’t want to get results from all the blogs out there, just from those I care about. Well, then, guess you’ll need to build yourself a custom search… or just use Delver. Knowing that in a few years every major search engine will integrate social features, I can carelessly blog about anything my social circle could find useful (say, how to plug an mp3 player to the audio system of an Israeli leasing-level Ford Focus), without bothering about categorizing with the perfect keywords (hint: there aren’t any). In fact, I think I’ll skip categories altogether in this blog, and just use tags for a nifty tag cloud 🙂