Search is a kingmaker or destroyer

I saw the media blitz about Borders launching their new site the other day. Interested I went to check out the new interface. Being a search nerd and a former employee of Audible.com (digital audiobooks), I was curious to see how they would handle navigation, search, etc.

My first impression was that the interface design was definitely distinct and “on brand”. The main focus of the home page is something called “magic bookshelf” which is basically an attempt to mimic an iTunes experience. I’m not sure the metaphor makes for a great experience. Have you ever stood in front of a real bookshelf, slack-jawed and overpower by the number of different book covers, trying to find your place in the alphabetical order? Sometimes this is fun, but if you are looking for something specific, the experience ends up leaving me drained. Also the bookshelf is done in Flash and takes a long time to load, making the rest of the homepage links inactive for a few seconds.

Next I went to their search which is placed front and center of the masthead. This is where things started to fall apart. I typed in “slaughter house” to see if it would return Kurt Vonnegut’s famous “Slaughterhouse-Five”. It didn’t. It did return “The Slaughter-House of Mammon: An Anthology of Victorian Social Protest Literature” by Sharon A. Winn as the first item. Vonnegut’s famous book was not within the results. So I decided to give them a break and type in “slaughter house 5″, but when I clicked into the search box my original query disappeared forcing me to enter the query again. I did find the book on my second attempt (actually I found about 16 versions). Unfortunately, the first version I clicked on had no detailed information just the ISBN number.

This whole experience leads to the same conclusion. Search can be a kingmaker or destroyer. If you type slaughter house in Amazon, Vonnegut is in first position. And more importantly, if you type amazon slaughterhouse in Google, the first position is a direct link to the product page. Type borders.com slaughterhouse and you will see them in the third position which is a link to a search results page within a borders inventory site and not a product page within their e-commerce site.

Amazon knows their entire business depends on search not a magical bookshelf. That’s why Amazon is king. Out of the gate it looks like Borders castle walls have been breached.