This blew me away; Hitwise reported that “facebook” was the top search term across the three major search engines (Google, Yahoo, and Bing) in March 2010.
Dig deeper and you’ll find that some variant of “facebook” accounted for eight of the 30 total spots.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since we saw glaring evidence of this usage pattern with the whole ReadWriteWeb-facebook login fiasco.
I want to know why. Why do people use search over the location bar or bookmarks?
My main reason is that I want to understand the pattern as a designer. As Facebook nears 500 million users, it is perhaps the best benchmark for how the average intertubes user interacts with a web app, including how s/he navigates to the app.
So, I think I understand the usage vectors here. The user opens a browser and is presented with search on the home page, which probably is the default one set by the browser vendor.
Search is a window to the interwebs and has been since the days of America Online. Flashback for a second: remember when media outlets would tell you the AOL keyword their online presences?
This is why search is such a valuable property, one that Microsoft refused to concede to Google, despite a decade of futility. This is why they dumped tens of millions into Bing.
Anyway, I understand why this is the prevailing behavior. Back in the early days, there was no directory for all the domains out there, and mistyping a letter could take you somewhere scary.
Flashback again: remember ESPN’s original domain, espnsportszone.com, I think it was? Not very intuitive to the brand and a doozy to type.
Search engines made it easier to find what you wanted. Notice I say easier, not easy.
By now, searching for any and everything is learned behavior, and it works. Technology is hard, just give me my Facebook.
If you’re designing a browser, what can you do to take back the navigation element that is, well, your primary function?
Enhancements might work. The search bar box is nice, but how many people use it vs. their home page?
The Firefox 3 Awesome Bar, which is even stronger in Chrome, is fantastic, but we’ve already determined that users don’t touch the location bar.
What about bookmarks/favorites?
From my experience with average interwebs users, the location bar is scary, whereas a search engine is not. They don’t even know what a browser is.
So, is this a design problem for the browser, or is it a usage problem by users?
Tough to call. Maybe someone needs to build a super fast, slim browser that has no features.
Find the comments, interested to hear your perspectives.