IT departments need to get in the spirit of Google’s Zeitgeist

Google is not a search engine for Canadians. Google is a shortcut for Canadians.

There was some surprise when the Google released its annual Zeitgeist report with Canadian data for the first time. “Google” was the most-searched for term, while “Facebook” was No. 1. Kind of weird, no? You could bookmark these sites, or simply rely on the browser’s ability to fill in the URL as you begin typing it at the very least. According to the Globe’s story, there’s a simple explanation:

“Apparently it’s because Canadians see Google not just as a means of finding information on the Web, but also as a navigational tool that provides them with quick access to sites they frequent.” I’d actually take this a step further: Google has created an online environment in which people are happy to reside for long periods of time online. While as Yahoo bombards users with content from third parties and leaves its search engine as a sort of last recourse, Google treats its search bar as the Internet’s gateway. Although software companies come up with all kinds of fancy shortcuts to move around programs, the type-it-click-it-find-it approach is a pretty hard user experience to beat.

Most IT departments are probably too busy to create a Zeitgeist survey, but if they did it would be an interesting way to assess how users are trying to access information. Think of the help desk as a search engine. What have been the most common queries in the past year? Password resets, you might say, which is a pretty predictable No. 1. But what else is on the list? If there are enough people struggling with the retrieval of certain kind of information from a certain source, obviously something may be up with the source. Or maybe users have simply decided the help desk could handle it faster. The help desk, in other words, has become the user’s Google for that particular problem.

People seek what they have already found because it’s a way of building up a de facto memory. People in a company place the most value on those who can help them navigate the often confusing blind alleys surrounding projects, policies and processes. IT professionals, which help glue a lot of these things together, are the natural starting candidates for acting as a corporate compass of sorts.

This isn’t always healthy, of course. IT departments shouldn’t be focused on performing redundant tasks that users could do themselves. But the trickiest balancing act technology professionals perform is to figure out in which capacities and to what extent they can be a guide to information, technology or both. Most of the time IT departments are focused on how they can make employees more productive. They will get more currency among users if they can also focus on those areas in which they can make employees a little more lazy.

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