If you use Office 365, you must also know the feeling of confusion when it comes to the various Search experiences. We still have the “classic” search center, but also more and more “modern” experiences. We have different user interfaces. Different ways of getting content suggestions and people recommendations.
Sounds exciting, but in practice, it can be very confusing.
When to use which one?
How to explain to the end users?
Unfortunately, Microsoft communicates only the excitement but hasn’t provided any overview so far which could help eliminate the confusion.
Let me help with that – by summarizing my real-world, unbiased experiences.
First of all: The primary motivations of searching
During my experiences, I’ve found that there are four main patterns of information seeking:
1) “I know what I’m searching for and I know how to find it.”
This behavior can be supported by Search applications.
2) “I know what I am searching for, but I don’t know how to do that.”
In this case, what the user needs help with is to Find the proper information.
3) “I don’t know what I am searching for.”
What this user needs is Discovery.
4) “Am I searching?…”
A classic use case for Search-Driven Applications.
To learn more about these patterns, please read my former blog post here: Information Seeking Patters
Classic search experience
The “classic” search experience can be found in SharePoint on-prem as well as in Office 365. It’s called “Search Center”, and provides results from the search index.
This means we do have full control on the searchable (and findable) content. We can filter out what’s not needed. We can define what results to be displayed (result sources). We can define what facets (refiners) to be used. We can even customize the user experience, by display templates.
These user interface customizations make possible to provide branded and unified experience. The results can be presented in a way that makes sense to our users – and they’ll respect it.
Classic search experience can support Search (1) and Search-Driven Apps (4) from the list above.
Modern search experience
“Modern” search experiences have been popping up in Office 365 for a while (but they’re not available on-prem).
They provide new ways of displaying relevant content, moreover, suggesting what is supposed to be useful to the current user. It is possible by Office Graph, which provides the content to be presented by these user interfaces.
Thanks to the way the Graph provides its content, the experience is always personalized. What I can see is suggested based on my previous activities and relationships. Anyone and everyone else in the organization will see a different set of content in a different order. Because everything I see is presented to me – and everything they see is presented to them.
At the same time, we don’t have real control on what is included in the Graph, hence what’s displayed to our users. Of course, everything is security trimmed, and privacy is also fully respected, but what content is in the Graph is out of our control.
Also, we cannot define how the items are displayed, since the user interface is not customizable.
These modern search applications obviously don’t provide the same “controlled” search experience as the classic search center does. But this doesn’t mean they are useless! Moreover – they do have a very well defined place in the toolkit of every information worker: these modern search experiences help us to get back what we’ve been working on recently, to find content even if we don’t know how to find it. And also, to discover content, that we might not even know about.
To conclude, here is a table that summarizes both experiences:
Having both the classic and the modern experiences in Office 365 has unquestinnable benefits. However, it’s also true that this mix might be, and probably is confusing for most of us. But if you know these characteristics and how they work behind the scenes, it’s much easier to understand why they provide the content the way they do.
I’m not saying it’s not confusing anymore – but maybe makes more sense.
I truly wish Microsoft brings these experiences closer to each other, and the end result will be a clear, straightforward experience for all.