Boolean Is Better but Maybe Google Must Motor Through Ad Inventory by Relaxing Queries…a Lot?

May 17, 2020

A brief exchange on StackExchange demonstrates some common sense. One user, moseisley.2015, asks the community, “Should Default Search Behavior be ‘This AND That,’ or ‘This OR That’?” They elaborate:

“I have web application that shows lists of various data types … employees, customers, inventory items, orders, and so on. There’s one simple search field for doing a ‘global’ search … . Question is, when a user enters multi-word text in the field should the default search behavior be (1) this OR that or (2) this AND that? What default behavior do you think average users would expect?”

Their example lists four records: John Smith, John Jones, Michael Smith, and Betty Taylor-Smith. Would users expect the query “John Smith” to return just the first record (AND) or all four (OR)? As any online researcher from the ‘70s and ‘80s would tell you, the Boolean AND is the better default. The first respondent, SNag, sensibly writes:

“As a user, the more I type in, the more specific I’m expecting the results to get, and this is what happens with AND. With OR, your results would explode! If my search for popular Google Doodle games gave me everything that was popular, everything Google, everything Doodle and every game out there, I’d be lost! If you’re expecting your user to fetch all matching either John or Smith results, consider supporting syntax like John|Smith (where | is the logical symbol for OR) and placing a hint ? icon next to the search box to showcase the various supported syntaxes. You could also consider quotes in the search syntax for exact matches, where “Smith” wouldn’t match Taylor-Smith, but Smith would. “John”|”Smith” would then match all John and all Smith but not Betty Taylor-Smith.”

We concur. The second respondent, Big_Chair, adds a good observation—users without any programming background are probably unfamiliar with the | character and may need a more explicit cue that their query is about to return results based on OR rather than AND.

Cynthia Murrell, May 17 2020


One Response to “Boolean Is Better but Maybe Google Must Motor Through Ad Inventory by Relaxing Queries…a Lot?”

  1. MP on May 17th, 2020 4:30 pm

    The average user is a teenager who does not give damn about boolean search and pipes and commas and most probably will use voice to ask siri or google for results.
    This is google’s target, not the “average” reader of stackexchange 😀

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