Something interesting to come out of our focus group relates to the usefulness of the advanced search tools in the apps.
I presented the participants ten photos of birds, alternating between easily recognizable and challenging species. I asked them to pretend that they didn't know what the bird was and to write down three to five characteristics of the bird. Then by entering some of these characteristics into the search tool, it was our hope to be able to find these "unknown" species within the app, just like a beginning birder relying on the app for help.
Of the ten species presented, only a couple species were were found on any of the apps using these filter search tools. It was pretty frustration for the participants. It is my belief that there is a fundamental flaw in the programing for these so called advanced or smart search features. Birding apps to help people identify birds should use "probability search" programming rather than "filter searches".
Let me explain. Filters narrow down the possibilities. Each time you enter a new filter item, it further narrows the possibilities. What we ran into in our focus group is that participants filtered themselves down to zero possibilities very quickly. The problem is that we all have a slightly different opinions about certain bird features, but the apps are designed with one designation for each bird species, so if you enter the "wrong" characteristic, your bird will no longer be among the filtered search results.
Probability search programming will show users something like this: "Of the 5 characteristics you entered, the following birds match 5 of 5 or 100% [or 4 of 5 (80%)...or 3 of 5 (60%), etc.]" This way, if a birding app user enters one attribute incorrectly, the bird they are trying to identify will at least still be on the list somewhere. As they add more "correct" characteristics of the bird, the correct bird will rise on the probability search list, eventually revealing the correct identity of the bird to the app user.
That being said, the existing filter search features can be used more effectively with some training and experience. Most apps allow you to select more than one characteristic under each category. For example, if you aren't quite certain of the size, you can select a couple size options and it should yield more possible birds than if you selected only one size. The same goes for color and other attributes.
App developers, I invite you to weigh in here. This is all about helping the app developers help the birders who use their products.