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A few recent search enhacements

January 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm PST

We made some updates to the search experience on recently.

1. Created US Product/Part ID (PID) synonyms – Makes it much easier to find products by Product/Part ID by  suggesting queries related to that PID.  By the way, you guys do a lot of PID searches — this helps make them much better.

Example: Enter PID ‘10000-1p2-1ac’ and search will provide you the option of “You could also try this related product: “cisco 10008 router”

2. US spell checking – Improves your experience by suggesting other queries if the system detects a misspelling.

Example: Enter a misspelled keyword ‘routr’ and search will provide you a “Did you mean:” optional keyword ‘router’

3. Clickable synonyms – Improves your experience by suggesting other similar queries without automatically including them in the search results.

Example: Enter keyword ‘cisco acl’ and have clickable synonym options presented for alternate search results

4. Verb lemmatization – Wait, what?  Oh, that’s the thing that provides results for variations of a word (install, installing, installed).

Example: Enter the term ‘install’ and search will also return results for ‘installing’ and ‘installed’


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My Connected Life in the Cloud

Over the last decade I’ve studied the practical applications of ethnographic research.  I’ve performed detailed use-case analysis of requirements, and I frequently volunteer as a participant in the development of prototypes for applications that are hosted in the cloud.

Why did I choose to invest my own time in alpha tests and beta trials?  To gain the first-hand knowledge of what it really means to create a user experience that is remarkable.

While I’m not a user experience designer, I’ve developed a keen sense of the personal productivity gains that can be achieved by software UI ease-of-use improvements.

Read More »

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When constraints are a blessing

October 17, 2011 at 9:33 am PST

A curse of any project is that moment when you look at the objectives to be solved, and realise that the rules or resources seem too constrained for success.

But sometimes, those constraints — which are so vexing early on — can be a blessing in the end.  A case in point is the new Series and Model pages we’ve recently updated on Originally, we had all kinds of grand ideas for how these pages should be transformed. But then we looked at the underlying systems that create the pages, and realised the grand ideas would be expensive to implement and time-consuming to maintain.

So, we dropped back. We asked ourselves: “What is it we’re really trying to accomplish for customers with this update?”  Some of the answers were very simple:

  1. Make the most important information quickly available (by putting it at the top of the pages)
  2. Highlight product comparisons, where they’re available
  3. Make the pages easier to scan visually
  4. Make the fonts bigger so things are easy to read
  5. Make basic spec information quicker to read

We realised we could do all of those things without an expensive rewrite of the underlying system. So, instead of a massive engineering project, we focused instead on new content standards and some CSS tune-up work.

You can see the result of items 1 and 2 and some of 3 above on all 7,000+ series and model pages. And, we’re beginning to roll out updates that address items 3-5 (making things easier to scan and read). Here’s an example from the Cisco Catalyst 2960 Switch series:

The simple changes we made with links to comparisons, embbeding spec tables, using bigger fonts and creating streamlined layouts were focused on things we knew customers needed in their daily use of the pages.  Constraints in the underlying system, it turned out, were a blessing because the constraints made us focus on those few things.

You can see additional examples of the updated layouts on these pages:


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Supportive Support for Small Business, too

February 17, 2011 at 6:45 am PST

Yesterday, Bill Skeet posted an update on a list of improvements we’ve made to the main support experience on In a related effort, we’ve also been working on some simple but important updates specifically for small business, and have just re-launched a Small Business Support and Resources page at Some features of this new page:

  • Highlights the Small Business Online Chat Support option
  • Phone support hyperlinks direct customers and partners to appropriate Support Center based on product
  • Community support hyperlinks direct customers and partners to appropriate Support Community based on product
  • Provides customers and partners with advice to expedite their support calls
  • Calls out ‘how to purchase options’ for customers and unregistered partners
  • Provides links to Open Source information
  • Go URL shortcut ( – easy for customers and partners to remember and easy to include in docs and correspondence
  • Fast search ‘recommended content’ already in place for this page

Let us know how you like these updates, and enjoy!

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Lessons from Wikipedia and other A/B testers

December 7, 2010 at 11:48 am PST

Chances are you have used Wikipedia for something in the last few months. And if so, chances are you have seen one of their fundraising pleas, such as these:

What’s really interesting is that Wikipedia is publishing the results of the ads, in something we in the biz call an “A/B” or multivariate test.  The idea is this: Create a series of different ads – with different pictures, headlines, buttons and links – then alternate them across the site, and see which combinations work best. You can measure “version A”  versus “version B” (that’s called an A/B test), or you can do a more sophisticated mix and match of the elements, called a multivariate test.  The great thing is you get data from 10,000 or 100,000 or 1,000,000+ interactions with your web site creative content, and from that can see what visitors are actually interested in, based on their behavior.

Commercial web sites do this all day every day, but the difference is that Wikipedia is posting their results in real time publicly, to the world.  There’s a ton of raw data about click behavior in multiple languages.

In their link to their A/B tests data updates you see a lot of interesting and counter-intuitive behaviors.  For instance, I thought “Admit it- without Wikipedia, you never could have finished that report.” is a fantastic headline, but it got less than a 1% click-through rate, whereas the “personal appeal from Jimmy Wales” with his picture got almost 3% clickthrough on a recent week.

The Wikipedia team are also posting regular summaries of their findings, in case you don’t want to slog through their detailed testing page or download their spreadsheets of raw data.  Some findings from last week emphasize that the total experience (from clicks through donation) are important to measure, and not just the initial click-through rate:

  • “The original two-step payment form we’ve been using is the most effective, it performed better than the new one-step process.”
  • “Adding an editor’s image to the landing page did not significantly affect donations.”
  • “The click-through rates on the editor banners continue to be on par with the winning Jimmy banner, but bring in fewer donations.”
  • “Many donors appear to relate better to letters which focus on readers showing support instead of individuals editing.”
  • “There has been a positive response to the new editor banners, the variety keeps our campaign interesting.”

From the commercial web world, there are a couple of other sites that post results of A/B and multivariate tests: and both show recent design tests and let you guess which ones were most effective.

By the way, you don’t have to use A/B tests just for advertising. In fact, many companies use them as part of their design regimen to test for which designs actually are most effective for users to complete a task.  The A/B test tells you which design works better, but of course not why it works better; you still need usability testing for that.

P.S. Shoutout  to the folks at digitaloptimizer and others for pointing out the Wikipedia tests to me – very interesting.

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