John Battelle's blog points out a new search offering from Yahoo! Labs called "Mindset." At the top of the results page you get a bar with a "slider." On the left is "shopping" and on the right is "research." What it allows the user to do is indicate whether s/he is more interested in performing research or buying something.
The results change accordingly.
This is a very intriguing innovation and, ironically, similar to what I was describing in my recent post about getting the user to indicate his/her intent and where s/he is in the buying cycle as a way to deliver a more relevant search result and/or targeted ads.
MSN has started down this path with its "results ranking" tool as part of the search builder feature of MSN Search. But it doesn't offer anything so explicit or accessible.
I have some questions about how sites are tagged or otherwise categorized in order to serve them up as "shopping" or "research" results. It's also a little ambiguous what the vast middle ground between the two extremes delivers — sites that are more shopping than research oriented? It's not obvious.
However, I think Yahoo! is doing something very interesting. Rather than building radically complex algorithms to divine the user's intent (which they're probably compelled to do anyway), it simply asks the user what s/he wants.
It also helps create different inventory for advertisers (as I suggested in my earlier post) and it theoretically helps provide a better, more relevant search experience. Because rather than second guessing the user's intent from a couple of key words, Yahoo! is soliciting users' input directly.
Radio buttons or tabs might be simpler, but this approach is a going to be something we'll watch with considerable interest.
More "hands on" information at Search Engine Roundtable.