The unbearable pointlessness of ‘browse’

Sometimes, people need help in working out what does what on a web site. I understand this. Because search is a function it is labelled as such (important as some text entry boxes have different functions). Sensible stuff.

But browse? Browse is not a function it’s a behaviour. It’s what we do when we look to discover content in a visual or hierarchical way. Treating browse as a function is nonsensical.

Browse as a navigation label with subjects or content types buried within it? Give me strength! If you translate this to the real world then this is what would happen: You walk into a store. There are no products to be seen. All you can see is a wall with another door in it. On the wall, in huge letters, is the phrase: “Come inside to browse”. Hold on, didn’t I just decide to do that when I walked in through the main entrance? Obviously not. No, I walked into the store and then when I got into the store I thought – now what do I do? I know, I’ll browse awhile and wow – that’s handy – there’s a door marked ‘browse’.

Browse as a consumer facing label needs to get into the dustbin of digital anachronisms alongside ‘splash pages’ (‘Welcome to our site. Click to enter’), the request to ‘click here’, (Need to register? Click here) and Internet Explorer (but that’s another story).



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2 Responses to “The unbearable pointlessness of ‘browse’”

  1. Daan

    Easier said than done. Some scholarly users adore browse, kind of serendipity thing, and won’t do without it. Cheers, Daan

  2. Sarah Charlton

    I can see why ‘browse’ as a functional lable is annoying – it feels a little cheesy & too dumbed down. Also using ‘Browse’ as a navigation lable under which you then hide all of the browse options isn’t usually ideal from an information architecture/user experience point of view. Ideally you would try to expose these from the start – or to use your shop analogy the aisles would be right there waiting for you to explore as soon as you enter the shop. However this all assumes that your shopper is someone that thinks browsing is important. If it is someone that has arrived for an appointment with a personal shopper and they know exactly what they want to buy but are confronted with ‘no sorry, you’ll have to browse the aisles’ then it isn’t great service. No one size fits all, and in a world where you are selling/sharing/promoting information or knowledge in whatever form that takes the customer is much more complex than this.


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