Ambient Findability

Ambient Findability

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In: Reviews > Book Reviews

By D. Keith Robinson

Published on November 21, 2005

book cover: Ambient Findability Peter Morville’s new book Ambient Findability kicks off with a pretty simple definition.

find·a·bil·i·ty n
a. The quality of being locatable or navigable.
b. The degree to which a particular object is easy to discover or locate.
c. The degree to which a system or environment supports navigation and retrieval.

The rest of the book is much more complicated, in a good way. It’s an intriguing read that explains one of the more important aspects of information architecture as it relates to the Web, even if he doesn’t begin there.

While portions of Ambient Findability feel like a text book, it does contain practical tips. Morville teaches us some fundamentals that might not seem all that relevant to designing for the Web, but he quickly breaks things down to a level Web professionals (or anyone else doing business on the Web) can use in everyday life.

Findability In The “Real” World

The book’s opening chapter is a great overview that touches briefly on the topics within and explains why you should care. Morville does a good job of explaining why findability matters for business and the effect information is having on societies throughout the world.

Before he gets much into the practical aspects, however, he makes sure we’ve got a good base to work with. He covers wayfinding, information interaction and the nuances of language and culture that have a great effect on how we perceive and locate things.

The section on wayfinding in nature is particularly fun and educational. He talks about how ants recognize landmarks and all the amazing things we can learn about our own wayfinding skills from nature.

He also spends a good deal of time getting into the head and history of human beings and their efforts to find their way in the world. I found these chapters extremely interesting, relatively easy to follow and a great backdrop to the current reality of findability on the Web.

Things are really complicated—it’s truly amazing how much we take for granted.

Findability on the Web

As the book moves along, it slowly and smoothly transitions to the more practical aspects of findability and the things you can do today to make sure your information, your product and your Web site are easy to find.

This is true “Web 2.0” for all you buzzword watchers out there.

We learn how to design for findability and get great advice on keywords, organization, and tagging. Morville talks about marketing, design, usability, metadata and lots more. It’s in these chapters that you really begin to realize that findability might be one of the most important aspects of design for the Web. After all, you can’t use—or play, or buy—something you can’t find.

Most of us begin searching the Web at Google, so the book does have some good guidelines for search engine optimization, as well.

The book wraps up with a look toward the future. Findability isn’t something you should be interested in—it’s something you must learn about if you deal with information. Morville talks about a future where we will simply have to find new and better ways to deal with information. The Web will be central to those efforts and we don’t even realize what’s in store.

The Verdict

Ambient Findability is a great place to start your journey with findability. It’s very well written, extremely interesting to read and will leave you with plenty to think about and bring into your day-to-day work on the Web. It may even have you completely rethinking the way you work with information.


Ambient Findability
ISBN 0596007655
Peter Morville
O’Reilly Media, 2006, 188pp.
$41.95 CDN
$29.95 US

Read Ambient Findability, an article Peter Morville wrote on the subject here at Digital Web Magazine.

Read the first chapter at O’Reilly, free.

Related Topics: Search, Information Architecture, Usability, Web Analytics

D. Keith Robinson is the creative director for Seattle experience design firm Blue Flavor and writes about Web design and more at his blog Asterisk. His expertise comes from /files/includes/10.css years of professional Web development and design for companies like Boeing, Microsoft, and Sony.