Search and Discovery: How They Complement Each Other

Posted by Romain Goday on Nov 23, 2011 2:37:00 AM

search and discovery content toolThe use of search engines has boomed in the last decade. More than 130 billion searches were conducted during 2010. The overload of information on the Web is challenging the monopoly over the consumption of online information using search engines. A new breed of tools, content discovery engines, is gaining traction to complement search engines.

The Major Differences Between Search and Discovery

The characteristics of search and discovery are complementary. The table below illustrates the differences between them:

search and discovery difference

Search and Discovery: User Goal

Search provides answers: Search engines deliver results based on a specific keyword queries. Search is for users who know specifically what they are looking for, such as "how to bake a lemon chicken-breast" or "who is the VP of Marketing at Google"

Discovery provides awareness: Discovery engines aggregate content related to a particular area of interest. The user goes through the information associated with the topic to monitor for new content and to gain awareness of what is going on. Discovery engines help users ensure that they are not missing important information related to their topic of interest. The topics of interest can be broad, such as “Technology”, or narrow, such as “minimalist interior design in Rhode Island”.

Search and Discovery: Occurrence

Search is a one-time experience: When users find a valuable answer to their question, there is no reason to continue to search.  

Discovery is an ongoing experience: Staying aware means monitoring topics of interest over time. The content discovery process continues as long as the user maintains interest in that specific topic. The frequency with which the user decides to monitor new developments depends primarily on time frame related for their need for awareness as well as speed of information flow. Whether new content is monitored every hour, every day or every week, discovery remains a continuing process. 

Search and Discovery: Content Focus

Search focuses on popularity: Search engines use popularity to identify and deliver content to their users. There is an implicit assumption that the more a Web page is visited, the higher is its “quality”. The focus on popularity requires time for new content surface and handicaps search engines from delivering the most current information. This is not necessarily a “problem”, it is simply different paradigm.

Discovery focuses on fresh content: The time-frame varies depending on the specific tool, but the common trait of discovery engines is their emphasis in newly published information. Some discovery engines make new information available in near real-time. Others can take hours or a few days as they monitor the behavior of the piece of information (emergence, popularity, social graph, etc) before it is aggregated with the goal of increasing relevance.

Search and Discovery: Selection Process

Search engines highly influence content selection: The volume of online information is so great that a single keyword query can return millions of pages. Search engines make them all available to the user but present the information in a linear fashion that promotes the selection of the very top results. Users are left with little choice. Google top result receives 36.4% of clicks, and the top 5 results receive 72% of clicks on average.

Discovery engines allow content selection by the user: With discovery engines, the user plays a larger role in the selection process. Discovery engines deliver targeted content on an ongoing basis for the users to review. Content may or may not be relevant, depending upon the context of the user’s particular need. Awareness requires knowing what is being published and making more pieces of information easily accessible. With discovery engines, users receive more content and determine what is relevant to them, in the moment, based on their own expertise and requirements.

Search and Discovery: Nature of Findings

Search delivers expected findings: Search engines categorize content based on specific keywords and make it accessible to users. The limited participation of the user in the selection of content forces them to be very clear and unambiguous in their query. This leads to expected information.

Discovery facilitates unexpected findings: In discovery mode, users do not have a specific result they are looking for. Instead, they have a topic about which they want to know about in given time frame. “What’s going on about alternative energy over the past week? As to the results, it is precisely because they want to find out what they don’t know that the discovery engine is best adapted to awareness.

Conclusion

  • Each tool has it’s own value and one should not be used in the place of the other
  • Users should use search engines when they clearly know what they are looking for
  • Users should use discovery engines when they don't necessarily know what they are looking for but want to to stay informed about new developments related to a given topic

Image by DaveFayram Flickr Creative Commons

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6 Traits of Highly Effective Discovery Engines

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Topics: Web Awareness, Content Discovery