Google makes a change that just makes sense

Matt Cutts posted an article this morning about a change in the way Google handles URL queries. The change makes absolute sense – I’d always kinda wondered why Google didn’t do this in the first place.

Beyond explaining the change, Matt makes some very good, and oft-forgotten, points about what he calls N users and M users. N users are the relatively small number of Google power-users who understand and use the myriad of special queries available on Google – info:, inurl: ,site:, etc. The rest are M users – a larger number by several orders of magnitude.

At work, we continually remind ourselves and each other that 98% of the people in our office are N users. Similarly, our friends are likely at least M+ users – somewhere between M and N. Everyone who works on the web in a professional way must maintain a circle of contacts that are clear M users, that they can call on to say “Does this make sense to you?”. The challenge is, of course, that people learn and so M user testers have a shelf life – their usefulness expires as they learn how to “do the web.” My parents’ generation is the best source of M testers, but they are learning too. And, of course, the skill set of the M user is not a constant. A few years ago, profficiency with word processor software was limited to N users – whereas now, these skills (if basic) are ubiquitous at the M level.

The only way to discern the M/N split in skills is to pay close attention to your feedback. Assume that the vast majority of feedback, say 80% or more, is from M users. Those are the users to whom your site/app must make sense. The other 20% of N users will adapt. It is far too tempting to dismiss the feedback that says “I didn’t understand”, or “I’m confused by…” as a minority that didn’t try hard enough.

Congratulations to Google (and Matt) for a) recognizing the problem and b) risking the wrath of their vocal N users in an effort to improve the experience of their M users.

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One Response to “Google makes a change that just makes sense”

  1. […] The BBC has a piece on the disconnect between technology and the language that revolves around it (blogs, RSS, IM, PVR, etc.). It reminded of the M & N users I talked about in an earlier post. It is so important for those in the tech industry to choose their words carefully, especially when the target client/user is non-tech – like many of TrueLocal’s potential customers are. […]