Not that? Tell more! Revamping Boolean Operators

One of the most important and decisive moments of a traditional reference interview is when a person says “I don’t want that.” This means two things: (1) they know what they don’t want and (2) they are engaged in the search with you. By knowing what a person doesn’t want, she is closer to knowing what she actually does want.

So, how can tools and services on the internet focus more on facilitating and instructing people in their online searches? They have to do just that. Tools and services must use interfaces people are already comfortable with and then facilitate their searches. Less emphasis should be put on the reference interview and more emphasis should be put on the opportunities a person has to find the information for herself. It’s a mind game.How can this be done by still preserving the intuitive, easy interface search engines like Google and Big give internet-searching-newbies? Give them a “Not That” button on the first page of the results. We’ve seen how successful the Facebook “Like” button is – it’s easy and it acknowledges that some piece of information has been ‘consumed.’ And, as we know from many different studies (including this one), most people who are searching for something don’t look past the first page of results. If they don’t find what they want, they try using other words, or they give up. The reference interview is meant to nudge people along until they know what they want. Help me help to you. Help me to help you. In many ways, it really is just a matter of facilitation of the articulation. It’s a mind game.

So, what happens after they click on the “Not That” button? Well, they’re prompted for more information by a couple of friendly questions (which happen to really be Boolean operators in disguise) The top of the page would say something like, “you searched for …” The additional questions are:

  • What else do you know about this? (this gives them the opportunity and comfort to expand) 
    • This question disguises the AND operator, but it is more inviting and also more useful. The AND operator isn’t intuitive; some people aren’t sure when it is or isn’t implied. Essentially, the more (correct) information the search engine has, the more likely it will return a result worth reading.
  • What do you NOT want from this search? (if no answer, leave blank)
    • This question disguises the NOT operator. While this may seem redundant because they already clicked on a “Not That” button, this gives people the chance to say they don’t want to know about specific things that showed up on the previous first page.

The search would be repeated using Boolean operators. New results would be given. If no results matched their needs, they’d be able to click the “Not That” button, but they’re probably scratching their heads and grumbling by this time. So, they’d be presented with a page that encourages them not to give up, given the chance to answer these questions again, or restart the search completely, or find a local library to find a person to talk to via chat, text, phone, email, etc. It’s a mind game.

The “Not That” button isn’t the key to conceptualizing how to assist people better; it is a way for the person to independently articulate what they want…or don’t want, for that matter.


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