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Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bill Thompson, a technology analyst in the article BBC NEWS | Technology | Why the web is often woeful is complaining about how bad search engines are. He's complaining that he can't find the information that he wants, particularly in this instance what the five tastes are - sweet sour and so on. Quite why he's having a problem I'm not sure... I did a search for "five tastes" and I got them all listed in the second hit without even having to go to the site. This is something that annoys me - it's one thing to complain about a search engine - I do it all the time, and it's a different matter when it's not the fault of the search engine, but the basic incompetence of the searcher. Inside of whining on, perhaps Thompson should start by looking at himself, since that's where (in this instance) the problem lies. A search engine is only as good as a) the data it indexes and b) the abilities of the searcher to get what they want, and that's where he's sadly lacking.
Actually, I think Bill Thompson was arguing that this sort of basic factual info was the only thing he could reliably find. "Unless I am looking for a straightforward piece of factual information - yesterday Max wanted to know what the five tastes were and could only remember sweet, salt, sour and bitter". Unfortunately, he didn't give any examples of what he couldn't find, so we don't know how well he does with more complex issues.
I don't know what version of Firefox he's using, but my version (1.0) keeps the last used search engine active in the search box, so if his "is still set to search Google" maybe he does need to break his Google habit. No tool is always the best.
I'm not as confident about the "semantic web" being the solution to searching problems as he is, however. If requiring metadata were the answer then we should be able to always turn up everything on a subject within a human-created indexing/abstracting database. Yet I'm sure we all have had the experience of missing a key paper completely until we try new search terms (usually several days after we needed the info, and when engaged in a completely different search).
I was under the impression that no search engine can really improve the quality of the question (except specialized search engines which know in advance the realm of the answers which can be given)
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