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Posts Tagged ‘Boolean search’

A couple of days ago I published a piece on Medium called “Towards a universal language for search“, in which I talked about how we’ve added Google integration to 2dSearch, thereby allowing a user to apply the same search strategy (or Boolean string) to search multiple databases. Of course, this may not matter much to your ‘average web searcher’, but for some professions, this is a big thing. Now the point isn’t so much about Google (or Bing for the matter), that just happens to be the instance we have used to illustrate the concept. And crucially, the point isn’t about query languages either (in the programmatic sense) – important though they are, converting a user’s information need into a API call is a different problem.

Instead, what we’re contemplating here is the prospect of a universal framework for information needs. 

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Over the last few weeks I’ve been sharing various ideas about ways in which techniques from the field of data visualisation can be applied to help solve complex search problems, with particular focus on the process of query formulation. In those posts, we’ve discussed the scientific (and, one might argue, commercial) rationale for adopting such techniques in the development of future search strategies.

But what we haven’t really considered thus far is legacy content – in particular, the many archive collections of solutions to common search problems that are stored as curated collections of Boolean strings and search filters. These repositories offer a vital source of inspiration and guidance and play a key role in the propagation of knowledge and best practice for a variety of professions.

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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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