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September 30th, 2008:

Episode IV: A New Search

It is a dark time for searching. We have no choice but to sift through pages of false hits, in desperate hope of finding our goal. Search results are willy-nilly. Googlification is everywhere.

Yet hope remains, for those who remain true —

Sorry…mixing my mythic battles. But searching really is weak — it tends toward spitting out all the possibilities and letting you sort it out. In many cases, that’s good and exactly what is needed. If I want to search for mentions of, say, “Athens”, a post might or might not be tagged with “Athens”, so that’s of dubious utility. Better to do a full on search, get lots of results, and go from there.

But notice that that’s the lowest common denominator of what you do. It’s great for the assumption that you know nothing about where to start, and so it gives you as many starting places as possible. But in plenty of cases you’re smarter than that. You know more about what you are searching for. You might have a vague recollection of just a part of the title of a post or of a blog. You might know that it starts with a particular word, but are unsure of the rest. You might remember just the first few letters of a blog’s subdomain (How do you respond to a “Go to my blog at…”, especially when it’s a spoken conversation? Ever remembered only the first few letters of a cryptic subdomain? I sure have!).

Our googlified method of searching doesn’t work well with the wacky notion that we might be coming to the table with a good idea of what we are looking for, but are just fuzzy on a few of the details. Much of the time, I suspect, we come to the table with knowledge that would make our searches much better. But there’s simply no place or mechanism for including that knowledge.

And so, two new options from Semantic UMW. Search by “Starts With” and search by “Contains”. There’s a simple input box (yes, yes, just like Google). After the first few letters they bring up a few lists that might be what you are looking for. Results are arranged in simple columns for things like blog titles that start with or contain that search, post titles, blogger display names, and in the case of “Starts With”, blog subdomain.

The Force is strong with the Semantic Web!