Search strategies

I was searching Amazon just now for Ellen Ullman's 2003 novel, The Bug, and being a savvy user of search engines I quoted the phrase in my query. In other words, I typed "the bug", which yields:


To my very great surprise, that query failed. However this query found the book straightaway:


Could it be that Amazon defaults to exact phrase search? Nope. Further experimentation shows that in other cases the normal convention -- using quotes to invoke exact phrase search -- works as expected. Perhaps this is a bug related to the occurrence of the stop word the in a two-word phrase?

Whether people actually do expect to use quotes to invoke exact phrase search is, of course, highly doubtful. I've always assumed that exact search remains largely undiscovered and unused. I haven't had the heart to download the AOL data spill and look through it, but in all the excerpts I've seen, I don't think there's been a single quoted phrase.

Lately I've been trying to pay attention to my own search strategies. When we search, we rely on a reservoir of tacit knowledge. Articulating and sharing that knowledge would be helpful to searchers and search providers alike. Lou Rosenfeld's forthcoming book on search analytics, discussed in this podcast, will provide some guidance on this topic. There's going to be a lot more to learn, and a lot more to do, as we weave search ever more intricately into the fabric of our minds.

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