Search is a widely debated issue. Over the years, more interest and more science has been applied to the topic, making it even more dynamic.

Search can be as simple or as complicated as you can imagine. An article is indexed with the terms appropriate to the content of that article. These terms are specific to the content. The terms applied are not broad categories unless the article itself is broad. Much like the proverbial rabbit hole, you can quickly get into the weeds.

Boolean search is usually behind the search box on a page. Put a word in, get all the articles tagged with that word. If a taxonomy is implemented and the search software will explode the query to include all synonyms, then you will get all the articles on the same concept but differently stated – i.e.,  the synonyms are also applied to the query. Boolean search often depends on field formatted data.

Statistical approaches to search are many, and occupy the bulk of government-funded university research. They go by names like neural networks, latent semantics, vector search, Bayesian, statistical, co-occurrence, clustering, etc. The algorithms perform much better with well tagged data. They do depend on Boolean operators for the base inverted indexes but add a great deal of calculation to the results, allowing different views and clusters of the data based on n-grams, clusters, and data points. They are great for small deeply mined static sets. If the data is always being added to, updated, or changed in some way, the vectors have to be reset for each analysis, increasing the processing overhead and slowing the reports from the data. They are the holy grail of search and still very actively pursued.

With a couple of rare exceptions, search has maintained its approach and no major advancements have been made. Under the hood in search, things like new caching algorithms, faster stemming, and co-occurrence indications are obscure.

The significant advances are in the user experience. The layer between the technology infrastructure and the web face is where the action resides. The user interface also plays a very important part in search. Advanced search usually takes you to the fielded search page. Displaying the hierarchy and searching the database through it can also be done as indicated above.

Word completion can be effected through a taxonomy or through a dictionary. “Did you mean” can be accomplished using synonyms from your thesaurus. Related terms can expand a search and narrower terms can make it more precise. These two can also be used to create a recommendation system for searchers.

The word of search is ever-changing. With the new trends and advancements, it is fascinating to monitor and stay abreast of the new developments.

Melody K. Smith

Sponsored by Access Innovations, the world leader in taxonomies, metadata, and semantic enrichment to make your content findable.