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Social Science Meets Computer Science at Yahoo

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inside user's head

Yahoo is taking a new look inside its users' heads.

Credit: The San Francisco Chronicle

Yahoo Labs is hiring social scientists, including cognitive psychologists, economists, and ethnographers, to help it understand what motivates users to click and remain on certain Web site features, while dismissing others. Yahoo Labs has set up controlled experiments and employed ethnography techniques to try to answer these questions.

"It is difficult for computer engineers to design interfaces that the average person is comfortable with, it takes somebody who is in some sense ignorant of the technology to be a better proxy for the users," says the Computer History Museum's Len Shustek.

Yahoo wants to focus on the front-end user experience by showing results based on what people are most commonly seeking. This is a prime example of where social science builds upon computer science engineering, says Yahoo Labs' Prabhakar Raghavan.

Another product of Yahoo Labs is its revamped Zync chat application. Yahoo's research found that users are more engaged in content when they can discuss the content with someone else. The Zync feature allows two people chatting in Messenger to watch a video at the same time within the application. "They have the sense that they're sharing an experience, not just exchanging information," says Yahoo's Elizabeth Churchill.

From The San Francisco Chronicle
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Abstracts Copyright © 2010 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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