Findability is not a word you will find in a standard dictionary. It does, however, have a Wikipedia entry, where it is defined as “a term for the ease with which information contained on a website can be found, both from outside the website and by users already on the website.” Wikipedia gives credit for coining the term to Alkis Papadopoullos in his article, Findability: The Key to Enterprise Search, published in April of 2005. I don’t believe that is correct; read on.
Wikipedia goes on to say that the term was popularized by Peter Morville, who defined it as “the ability of users to identify an appropriate Web site and navigate the pages of the site to discover and retrieve relevant information resources.” In fact, a few months after Alkis’ article, Morville published the book Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become. One would presume he had been writing the book for longer than five months. Peter maintains his own blog on the topic at findability.org, where he says, “Findability refers to the quality of being locatable or navigable. At the item level, we can evaluate to what degree a particular object is easy to discover or locate. At the system level, we can analyze how well a physical or digital environment supports navigation and retrieval.” It is also on his blog that I found a prominent link to his article, The Age of Findability, which is dated April 29th of 2002. In this article, Peter states that, “Findability isn’t limited to content. Nor is it limited to the Web. Findability is about designing systems that help people find what they need.”
What I’ve found in my research is that the common use of the word is in relation to searching for content. It is used heavily in discussions about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), writing for the web, and various content-searching user interface approaches. This is how Jakob Nielsen uses it in his article Use Old Words When Writing for Findability, and there are many related articles to be found on Boxes and Arrows. However, it is also used in reference to functionality of user interfaces that provide access to content, as is the case in the article Findability, Orphan of the Web Design Industry by Aarron Walter, available on A List Apart.