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Heuristic-based analysis is pretty common in certain applications, and Apple has gone so far as to create their own user-language to describe the hard computery stuff: "Genius". I don't know anyone who doesn't understand "Genius" the way Apple presents it, but this raises a tricky UX problem for the rest of us.

How do you present "heuristically likely the best for you" to users? Google appears to have opted for the term "magic":

Magic image

This adjective is odd, and I feel like it might be segregating and wrong to invent new language every time the same concept is in use. Is there a better term than "magic" that won't run into copyright issues ala "Genius"?

How do you word "What you likely want to see?"

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"Automagic" is a term I've seen used increasingly commonly in more techy contexts. It suggests some whimsy but I don't find it inappropriate. It's a bit more fun to say than "automatic" and it suggests it's not just doing a thing, but doing it in a special or fantastical way. –  Ben Brocka Dec 17 '11 at 23:40
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How about "Sort by appropriateness" though that's a bit long... –  ChrisF Dec 18 '11 at 0:22
    
Without the context of this question, I wouldn't have had a clue what 'magic' was... –  PhillipW Dec 18 '11 at 13:05
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"magic" is humorous, but it is also a well-established term in the hacker community: ( see: catb.org/jargon/html/M/magic.html ) –  horatio Dec 20 '11 at 15:41
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I'd also note that "Genius" is only logical after you've heard Apple's explanation of it (plus it's throughly tied to their brand); in fact I've yet to use an Apple product that uses the term without a brief explanation of it. My iPad and iTunes explain Genius before you use or enable it. –  Ben Brocka Dec 29 '11 at 22:44
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8 Answers

I'd be inclined to "Recommended Sorting", but since it breaks the "Sort by..." pattern, I'd choose either "Sort Automatically" which breaks the pattern only slightly, or one of my favourite terms for this kind of "magic": Relevance.

So I'd go with Sort by Relevance.

After all, what heuristic does is being more relevant to the user's interest.

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If I were looking for something clearer I'd use 'Sort by Recommended'

That said, whimsical terms like Genius and Magic (and Automagic) don't bother me. I see them as shorthand for complex process that a good UX makes simple; in this case, it's personalized sorting. Since personalization features are often marketed as differentiators, new terms will probably keep popping up even if we try standardizing around one name.

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Agree. It also gives the experience a little human touch. –  Tony Bolero Dec 18 '11 at 8:11
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Maybe: 'Personalized Sorting' then as the label ? –  PhillipW Dec 18 '11 at 13:06
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Personalized Sorting sounds like I can sort manually. I like "Sort by Recommended", as it's clear that someone or something is doing the recommendation. I guess Amazon uses this approach, with the "You may also be interested in..." –  Stefan Kendall Dec 18 '11 at 18:17
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If one is going to use playful labels for things, there must be a way to find out what the "fun" feature does. In my opinion, Google gets it wrong by not providing any sort of documentation on this feature (other than this old blog post). What's more, they've apparently broke the feature with their recent redesign, so that's a problem, too.

My favorite examples of "quirky" interface options on the travel search engine Hipmunk (which, if you haven't tried it, has the best UX of any travel site I've ever used, hands down). On their flight searches, the default sorting mechanism is "Sort by Agony", which is clearly and succinctly defined in their FAQ:

What is Agony, and why would I want to sort by it?

We know that price isn't the only factor that goes into purchasing a flight. While other sites sort by price, Hipmunk automatically sorts results by "Agony," which is primarily a combination of price, flight duration, and number of stopovers.

Likewise, when one searches for hotels, the results are sorted by "Exstasy":

What is Ecstasy, and why do I want to sort by it?

Similar to our Agony sort with flight search, we recognize that price isn't the only factor that goes into buying hotels. We sort by "Ecstasy," which is a combination of price, amenities, and reviews.

Two specific things make this work for me:

  1. It's Hipmunk's "secret sauce". Much like Google's algorithmic prowess merges a bunch of factors into an overall ranking that is generally right, so to does Hipmunk. It's the equivalent to "PageRank". As other answers have noted, "Magic" is really just "recommended for me", so giving it an unknown name can just be confusing for users (and thus the feature isn't used).
  2. Hipmunk clearly communicates what they mean. When you mouseover the selector, you immediately get a clear, concise description for what it is:

    Hipmunk Example 1

    Additionally, they use the loading time effectively, teaching new users how to use the unknown interface elements (the things that set them apart from other travel services:

    Hipmunk Example 2

The bottom line: Having quirky/playful/fun interface elements is great, but only so long as it enhances the user experience. In my opinion, Google Reader's example is a distraction, not an enhancement.

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Hipmunk looks nice, but how on Earth can you choose any other currency than USD? If I can't find a fairly basic option like that = not an excellent UI –  Konrad Morawski Jan 2 '12 at 19:08
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@Morawski "What, are there people outside the United States?" - I feel way too many designers act like they thought that way. –  Camilo Martin Aug 8 '12 at 19:48
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To answer the question in the title of this question, I think the use of "magic" is appropriate given the right context. Google apps have a reputation of being slightly whimsical, so in that instance it is appropriate. If you were to use this same word in an application targeted at medical or legal professionals it might not be appropriate.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer that will work in all cases. A little hallway usability testing is often enough to know if what you choose will work in your app.

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Another term to consider is "relevance", although this has usually been more common in responses to user directed search parameters.

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How about "Sort automatically"?

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

eBay's default (and recommended) sort for items is called "Best Match". You can sort search results either by price, listing start date, or by best match. It's pretty clear that sorting by "Best Match" will provide you with the best results in eBay's eyes.

I think this approach is much clearer than using the term magic. Magic does not necessarily have a positive connotation. Magic is more like something mysterious that you don't understand. Magic is not necessarily good for you, why would magical sort be something I prefer? It feels a bit unreliable for me, because if I don't understand it, how can I know it's dependable and will always provide me with a consistent experience?

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If I was in charge of the "micro copy", I would use "Smart Sort". I would purposely break the "sort by" pattern as a means of differentiating it.

If you insisted on keeping the pattern I would use "Sort by our best guess".

Either way, I would ad some sort of highlighted message (Yellow bar or similar) over the table returned indicating the "smart sort" result.

Smart Sort: We returned this table sorted based on your browsing history and previous choices.

This is necessary because no particular column may be represented by the sorted results. If not column is specifically highlighted, then it's even more confusing without some indication.

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