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Posts Tagged ‘advanced search’

One small step for an app, one giant leap for advanced search… well, maybe not. But introducing field tags on 2dSearch is potentially more significant than it sounds, so I hope you’ll indulge my reflection for a moment here.

Superficially, we’ve added a way for user to articulate commonly used search operators such as:

  • site:linkedin.com’ (i.e. search for webpages from the site ‘linkedin.com’)
  • intitle:profile’ (i.e. return pages that have ‘profile’ in the title).

This would be rendered in the UI as follows:

So far, so simple. But what we’re doing is actually much more than that: we are providing a generic mechanism to differentiate between content and metadata, and have the system interpret that construction according to the semantics of the underlying database. This has far broader implications.

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Do you use search suggestions on Google? I’ll wager you do: they save time, help to minimise error-prone keystrokes, and even if not consciously processed, can give us the inspiration we need to form better queries than we’d originally contemplated.

But query suggestions, as we currently understand them, have their limitations. In particular, they are predicated on the assumption that most queries are composed of relatively short sequences of keywords, perhaps with some elementary linguistic structure. This is of course largely true for web search, but for many advanced or professional search applications, the assumption breaks down.

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When was the last time you used ‘advanced search’ on a website or information resource? Go on, admit it – unless you’re a professional searcher, the answer is probably measured in months (if not years). Why is this? Partly, it might be that the concept itself is flawed, on the basis that an effective search experience should place ‘advanced’ search tools in the hands of all users as and when they are able and willing to use them.

But mostly, I’d wager, it’s down to execution. Invariably, instances of advanced search are predicated on the notion of either parametric search or Boolean string search (or both), with all their flaws and idiosyncrasies. Inevitably, most users vote with their feet, but advanced search is retained as a concession to a more vocal group of ‘power users’. Not that their needs are not legitimate, of course – quite the contrary – but my point here is that support for that requirement and the requirement itself are two very different things.

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