“Those four sites are extremely profitable and extremely successful,” said Dr Nielsen, adding that they have largely defined commercial success on the net.
“All are based on user empowerment and make it easy for people to do things on the internet,” he said.
“They are making simple but powerful tools available to the user.
“None of them have a fancy or glamorous look,” he added, declaring himself surprised that these sites have not been more widely copied. In the future, Dr Nielsen believes that search engines will play an even bigger part in helping people get to grips with the huge amount of information online. “They are becoming like the operating system to the internet,” he said. But, he said, the fact that they are useful now does not mean that they could not do better.
Currently, he said, search sites did not do a very good job of describing the information that they return in response to queries. Often people had to look at a website just to judge whether it was useful or not. Tools that watch the behaviour of people on websites to see what they actually find useful could also help refine results. Research by Dr Nielsen shows that people are getting more sophisticated in their use of search engines.
The latest statistics on how many words people use on search engines shows that, on average, they use 2.2 terms. In 1994 only 1.3 words were used.
“I think it’s amazing that we have seen a doubling in a 10-year period of those search terms,” said Dr Nielsen.