Idea du Jour: Widget for Responding to Searchers in Real Time

When I need a brief distraction, I occasionally surf my incoming visitor stream on HitTail. With an emphasis on searchers, this service shows where your site visitors are coming from, in (more or less) real time. For example, in last two minutes, five visitors showed up at from these searches:

Each of these searchers is asking a question. That’s what every user of Google, Yahoo et al are doing–seeking answers to questions.

Sometimes the page they find on this site will help them, and sometimes it won’t. That’s also a universal experience.

There’s a person behind every website. Many times, they can answer a searcher’s query better than their website can. Wouldn’t it be cool to connect searchers and site owners in real time?

Imagine Two Widgets

Imagine two widgets. If you’re a blogger or site publisher, you have the first one on your computer’s desktop. Like HitTail, it shows a real time stream of searchers and their search terms.

The other widget lives on every page of your website, probably in a sidebar. It looks like a little real time chat box (these have been around for a few years).

If you want to connect with a particular searcher, you click the particular search terms in your desktop widget and (using some Ajax magic) it automatically broadcasts a message to the widget on the page the searcher is currently viewing. For speed, there’s a default message that looks something like “You found this page by searching for friend has baby for gay couple–can I answer a question about that for you?” You can also type your own custom message.

A Quick Chat With the Searcher

Then you could have a quick chat with your searcher. Depending on what kind of site you have, this might result in a new RSS or newsletter subscriber, an ad click, a product sale or just some good karma.

It’s not really much different from the current live chat widgets, except that it’s specific to the searcher, talks to a desktop app and sets some very specific parameters for the ensuing conversation. This seems like a pretty obvious idea–maybe this thing exists already?


  1. Ooh. I love this idea. It’s way nicer than the liveperson concept of just randomly popping up a window to annoy anyone who happens to be on your site. It’s actually directed. That’s brilliant.

    Although — you could sort of do this with liveperson as is. When someone comes in the site, you can see what their search query was by seeing what the referral page was…

    Still, it’d be nice to see something specifically designed the way you describe.

  2. I always feel bad when I see that searchers aren’t quite hitting the right page, or getting the info they need, and I had a similar idea, but I always thought it would really freak people out to respond to their searches with an immediate live interaction.

    Searching “feels” solitary and private.

  3. As a searcher I think I’d find this intrusive and creepy – I’d feel like the site owner was watching me – and I’d hightail it off that site immediately.

  4. The thoughts about creepiness are interesting, and a bit telling. Increasingly, site owners are watching you–through web stats, click trackers and so forth. I see that spying becoming increasingly real time. So maybe there’s an educational component to this thought experiment?

  5. I really like the idea too. I’d also like it if you (as the site owner) could append the answer someone else found helpful to the post, so you didn’t end up answering the same question over and over for the same search.

    In a way, it’s responding the the database of intentions (thx: John Battelle), and then versioning out useful additions to make the database more valuable. But the additions are in the index, they’re on the edge. If Google isn’t already doing this, they should certainly consider it. Or some enterprising person should do it to sell to Google. The edge writing back to the centre.

    Thinking a bit more about it, you’d need some feedback loops to make sure that folks writing back to the searchers were accountable for what they did. Some means to avoid a new type of arbitrage for search terms that would employ scripts / cheap labour to direct traffic on the fly to sites that pay for the traffic.

  6. it sounds like a great idea but i get the creepiness of it, too.

    i had meebo (a chat widget) on my blog for a little while and either felt i was “on” all the time or felt bad for not being there to greet people.

    when i talked to others who had meebo on their site, they had the impression that many visitors found it creepy, too. it’s definitely something to think about, though; an idea to experiment with and refine.

  7. This is a really interesting idea. But for sites with a lot of traffic, this could be a problem. You could also let the user search within your site for the same query, this way you give him more exposure to to your content.

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