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Friday, December 17, 2004
Blogfodder, volume II: Why Can't Search and Sort Just Get Along?
I have to admit that this blogfodder topic is a little weak, since I've already spouted off on this at least once before, but the desktop search arms race that's currently underway has brought a little currency to the topic.

There was a nice post on the Social Customer Manifesto a few days ago, entitled The Radical Insidiousness Of Desktop Search. It's full of good information and well thought out...go read it.

The proposition that I find hard to accept, however, is this: It is only a matter of time before the "flatness" of the web becomes mirrored in how people use their local systems, and maybe even in how those systems are organized. With a solid desktop search engine, why should I bother to put things in folders anymore? I can put everything in one place, and the search engine will find it for me. My job just got easier.

Okay, so why bother to put anything in folders anymore?

Because there are different kinds of searches. When searching the Web, most people are (at present) performing a relatively non-specific search: they want to find information related to a specific set of keywords, but they're not looking for one particular result. Finding one specific document on the Web is actually really difficult unless you know a set of search terms that pull your document as the top result...I've got dozens of bookmarked (i.e. "sorted into a folder structure") Web pages, precisely because it took me a lot of poking through search results to find those specific documents; as far as I know, there's still no easy way to search for "that PDF that was linked from the fifth result down on the third page of results for a search on "computational linguistics."

Some desktop searches are general, topical searches, of course, and a flexible desktop search tool is perfect for these cases, but when I want to find something on my local machine I normally want one specific file and no other.

Let's suppose that I was working on a presentation about three weeks ago, on the topic of data segmentation strategies (which is what pretty much all of my presentations are about), and I now have time to come back and finish it up. I could go to my search tool, figure out keywords that are likely to get that presentation without too many other documents, perhaps select a date range when I think it was created or last modified, maybe a file type, and then pick my presentation out from the results. On the other hand, I could go to ~/docs/working/presentations/, open up the file, and start working. If the file isn't where I think it should be, then I'm off to the desktop search tool (and grateful that it is available to me), but searching should be an option rather than a requirement.

Search and sort complement each other, and I don't understand why anyone would seriously consider throwing away one just because the other works pretty well for a lot of stuff.

We'll end there...in case I don't get around to the RSS vs. email blogfodder entry, just fill in those terms in place of "search" and "sort" and you'll pretty much have the idea.
“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”
- Herman Melville

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