Search: Contentious and Increasingly Horrible

May 25, 2020

I dropped enterprise search, commercial search, and vertical search to the bottom of my “Favorite Topics” list years ago.

Why?

The individuals popping up and off at conferences were disconnected from the realities of looking for information under stressful circumstances.

image

Hey, big rocks, how did you move from that quarry kilometers away and get yourselves smoothed down? Just like modern online search systems, you won’t get an answer. Finding information relevant to a query is as difficult as getting megalithic stones to become Chatty Kathies.

The thumb typing crowd, some are now in their mid forties, ASSUME that search has to think for the stupid user.

The techniques range from smart software which skews results in what are to an experienced researcher stupid ways. For those search experts concerned with making their information or their name appear number one on a results list, good search was anything that produced a top spot in a result list even if that result was stupid, irrelevant, or shameless ego jockeying. Then there are the chipper, super confident experts who emerged from an educational system which awarded those who showed up and sort of behaved a blue ribbon. Yep, everything that group does is just wonderful. Yeah, right.

You can see the consequences of two forces colliding when you read Science Magazine’s “They Redesigned PubMed, a Beloved Website. It Hasn’t Gone Over Well.”

You can work through the examples in the source article. The pain points range from appearance to search functionality.

Why did this happen?

The change is a result of people who do not have the experience of performing search under stressful conditions. No, I don’t mean locating the Cuba Libre restaurant in Washington, DC, on a Google Map. I mean looking up technical information to complete a lab test, perform a diagnosis, locate a procedure, or some similar action. There is a pandemic going on, isn’t there?

The complaints indicate that the “new” PubMed is not perceived as a home run.

Go read the original.

I want to offer several observations:

  1. Those who do research with intent need predictability; that is, when a Boolean query is entered, the results should reflect that logic. Modern systems think Boolean is stupid. There you go, a value judgment from those with “Also Participated” ribbons in high school.
  2. Interfaces should allow the user to select an approach. There are some users who like a blinking dot or a question mark. Enter the commands and get a text output. Others like the Endeca style training wheels, although I doubt if any of the modern “helper” interfaces know what Endeca offered. Other may want some other type of interface like a PhD approach; that is, push here, dummy. The point is: Why not allow the user to select the interface?
  3. Change is introduced for dark purposes. Catalina has many points of friction so that Apple can extend its span of control. Annoying? Sure is. Why doesn’t Apple tell the truth about these friction points? What? Tell the truth, are you crazy. Apple, like Facebook and Google, are doing what they can to protect their hegemony, and the user is the victim. Tough. The same logic applies to PubMed. Dollars to donuts there is a “reason” for the change, and it may be due to whimsy, money, or the need to demonstrate the team is actually doing something instead of just having meetings with contractors.

Net net: Search, as I wrote for Barbara Quint in the now departed magazine Searcher, search is dead. Each day the hope for a better, more appropriate way to locate online information becomes lost in the mists of time. Getting relevant information from PubMed or any modern systems is like trying to get the stone of Ollantaytambo to explain how the rocks moved eons ago.

Finding information today is more difficult than at any other time in my professional career. That’s a big problem.

Stephen E Arnold, May 24, 2020

Comments

2 Responses to “Search: Contentious and Increasingly Horrible”

  1. david ring on May 27th, 2020 9:17 am

    Hi Steve,

    Sufficient aaSearch tags are of great importance and they must be spelled correctly.

    Consider having a professional librarian do some of your more technical searches for you. They tend to spot spin or manipulation of the data more readily than ordinary library patrons.

  2. web page on July 9th, 2020 12:42 am

    It’s hard to come by well-informed people in this particular subject,
    but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!
    Thanks

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