Google’s auto-suggest is an interesting little contraption. If you type one letter of the alphabet into google’s search bar, in every case the first suggesting you’ll get is a product or a company (Amazon, Best Buy, Ebay, Facebook, etc.) C, D, and W are exceptions – Craigslist, Dictionary, and Weather. Chase Bank, Dell Computers, and WalMart really should be irritated.
After Google sidestepped China’s censorship laws with its home page, and the Chinese government responded by revoking the company’s license to operate, the two sides have reached a compromise by switching the default rule.
Originally, Google used a home page that displayed uncensored results. Going forward, it will use a home page that displays censored results, with a tiny link at the bottom taking users to a version of the home page that displays uncensored results.
An Irish firm called Mulley Communications recently used eye-tracking software to follow people’s eye movements on a page of Google search results. The firm found that people look at the first three results, but generally ignore the ads on the right-hand side of the page. They do, however, look at the one or two “sponsored links” that appear above certain sets of search results. The company released six videos — or “eye heat maps” — showing which spots on the page drew the most attention.
Why are people concentrating so closely on the upper-left hand side of the page? Is this some kind of a default position for screens? Maybe, although the possibility seems slight. (Check out this tennis match. Or this spanish ad for a home retailer. Or this eye heat map of the Ikea web site.) An alternative possibility is that the eye heat map for Google says more about Google than it does about web sites or computer screens.
Mulley posted eye heat map videos for six online searches. What is different about each search is the degree of specificity. The searches range from the very specific (“Liverpool football” and “MAC cosmetics UK”) to the very general (“Jobs Ireland” and “News Ireland”). A reasonable hypothesis is that more general searches would lead to more eye dispersion as users visually scroll down the page looking for results that match their interests. Meanwhile, more specific searches would lead to concentrated eye movements at the top of the page, since the search engine is likely to produce a match for the site users had in mind. This is clearly not what happens, though. In every search, general or specific, people focus on the top three or four results. Why?
People could be lazy — really, really lazy not to move their eyes down a page. Another possibility is that Google’s algorithm so accurately matches what people are looking for when they have something specific in mind that when they pose a general search, they trust that Google’s super smart algorithm will find the best site for them to visit. This trust needn’t be conscious. It can be completely automatic, an instinct based on the ability of past search results (specific and general) to give people what they are looking for. Ironically then, Google’s ability to deliver the information individuals want is so effective that it ends up hurting many of the companies that pay Google to reach those same individuals. Those companies can appear on the page that interests a potential customer, and yet still be ignored. Missing in plain sight.
Hat tip: Simoleon Sense and Liam Delaney for first spotting these maps.
1) Many readers pointed to a story on a study about the effect of posting calories in fast food restaurants. Customers noticed the signs and thought they influenced their orders. But they actually ordered food with more calories. Reader Paul Zurawski wonders if customers would have eaten healthier if they had been asked to sign a receipt acknowledging their choices and calorie counts.
2) The top ten annoying alarm clocks. Clocky is No. 1. Hat tip: Daniel Lee.
3) Google’s PowerMeter now works with a handheld device that starts at about $200. What this means is that you would not need a utility company to install a smart meter in your building. Hat tip: Christopher Daggett.
4) The San Francisco airport has begun selling carbon offsets at the electronic check-in kiosks. Philip Frankenfeld has many catchy slogans for this nudge including “Pay dime. Help clime” and “You are now free to roam around the carbon”.
Addendum 5) A vase that lets you know when your flower needs watering. As water evaporates, the vase tilts. Hat tip: John Gibbard.
Nudge blog readers are a keen bunch. We woke up this morning, saw it, and smiled. But we weren’t alone. Other readers (hat tip to Brad Allan, Rory Sutherland, and Jeff Galak) saw it too. Don’t know if they smiled.
Google has unveiled a tool called Mail Goggles that requires its users to answer a few simple math questions in order to send a message. Brad Allen notices that while the famous Civility Check was intended to nudge people away from angry emails, Mail Goggles seems to be more concerned with late night drunken blunders. Maybe it’s just a generational difference. Boomers worry about insulting their co-workers after lunch. Gen Y Millennials worry about spilling incoherent mush to their ex-boyfriends and girlfriends after midnight.
The Nudge blog is the online companion to Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” Here you’ll find much more about nudging, choice architecture, libertarian paternalism, and many other terms you won’t read about in standard economics books.
Cass Sunstein is currently the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and has no affiliation with the Nudge blog.
The Nudge blog is edited by John Balz.
Tell us about a nudge
The possibilities for great nudges are everywhere. For a list of favorites from the book, check out our dozen nudges. We invite readers to send their own nudge suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is Choice Architecture?
Decision makers do not make choices in a vacuum. They make them in an environment where many features, noticed and unnoticed, can influence their decisions. The person who creates that environment is, in our terminology, a choice architect. The goal of Nudge is to show how choice architecture can be used to help nudge people to make better choices (as judged by themselves) without forcing certain outcomes upon anyone, a philosophy we call libertarian paternalism. The tools highlighted are: defaults, expecting error, understanding mappings, giving feedback, structuring complex choices, and creating incentives.
For a user-friendly introduction to choice architecture, check out this paper.