To search or to browse, what’s the difference?

November 9th, 2017

search   browse

Even though many people think they are the same, searching and browsing are very different. Now that people rely on search engines, it is much harder to browse information, so it is much harder to see how the information you find fits into a broader context. With browse, it was much easier to get an overview of a whole subject area, and much easier to see what the main categories within that subject are. This process made it much easier to “know what you don’t know” and much harder to disappear into an “echo chamber” where you forget that there are other opinions out there.

Professional researchers need to know how any piece of information fits into a broader context, to consider contrarian as well as mainstream opinions, and watch out for outliers. The loss of browse in favour of search has certainly made this process far harder, and is why so many researchers have asked us for research tools that make suggestions and offer recommendations of what to search for. Here are some of the key differences in what searching and browsing are best at:

One of the challenges of helping researchers navigate the firehose of online information is to find creative and engaging ways to offer browse-type overviews of what is available and help researchers discover information they would not have thought of searching for by themselves.

Fran Alexander