The results of a survey by a trade journal serving the Integrated Circuit market on “How Designers Search – Survey Results.” offered some interesting food for thought. The information was gleaned from the 185 managers, engineers and programmers working in commercial or military sectors out of 443 respondents to a survey sent to eg3.com’s 43,000-plus subscriber list.
The survey attempted to determine how engineers and programmers search for information on technology, what types of content they were seeking, and how they went about finding it. As might be expected, search engines ranked high and were used by engineers, virtually all the time, with Google leading the pack, followed by Yahoo (a distant second) and Microsoft’s Bing.
The survey results also provided insight into how engineers use these search engines. Not surprisingly, most engineers do not give up after the first page of links, but go deep into the result pages. In fact, almost 40% “often” or “always” go as far as Page 10 on their searches. This makes sense for people working in highly technical and specialized fields and represents one flaw in general search engines such as Google. Since they serve the general public, specialized content is easily buried. I know this to be true from my own research efforts, which can often require going far into the Google results. I wouldn’t be surprised if the problem gets much worse before we start seeing a backlash and a shift in the use of search technology and introduction of alternative products/services.
Beyond search engines, online media was ranked as a very good source of information to the engineering community, while emails and newsletters were also highly regarded. Perhaps online media should be ranked as the highest source of information, since search engines ultimately just redirect engineers to these sites anyways.
Social media as a source of information is growing slowly but currently ranked low enough among the survey takers to make some people conclude that social media is greatly overhyped for distributing information. I have a different opinion. I have just recently started using Twitter, Linked-in and Facebook to distribute information that I find useful and assume others will to. If e-mailing a good article to colleagues is common among engineers (which according to the survey, it is), then I believe social media will be adopted for a similar purpose in much greater numbers in 2010. Instead of forwarding an article and listing all the recipients' e-mail addresses, I can forward an article in two mouse clicks via Twitter and cover all the people who follow my Tweets. Think of it as a recommendation service - "As someone working in the microwave/wireless field I found this interesting and think you will to". Its like a custom ad-hoc newsletter. We have just implemented this share capability (Twitter, Linked-in,.. ) on the Microwave Journal web site, and I hope many of you take advantage of it. Engineers may not necessarily be first adaptors but once they discover a time-saving tool, watch out.
The survey found trade shows and print publications still popular but significantly behind search engines for research. This also makes sense. Print has many great qualities, providing a unique, tactile reader experience that the web cannot deliver, although hyper-linking isn’t one of them. I also know that many of our print subscribers hold on to their copies for many months or pass them around the office. This information educates many engineers before they ever go online and fire up the search engine.
In the “What do Designers Want” category, ‘hands-on’ items such as demos, software and evaluation kits rank very highly. On the flip side, vendor articles and webinars ranked moderately low and podcasts very low in response to a “What Information do you seek” question. I found thess results very surprising and perhaps weighted by an abundance of self-promoting, marketing focused articles appearing elsewhere on the web. I know these are a big turn-off for technical people, looking for information to get their jobs done.
Looking at the attendance of MWJ/Besser webinars and download rates of vendor white papers, which remain quite high, I believe the continued popularity of both is testament to the quality of information (and self-restraint) that the marketing people in our industry have shown when developing and presenting information about their technologies and products.
If we can do more to help you find what you need, feel free to comment. The suggestion box is open.