Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Search Engine Pain

I love and hate my desktop search engines. After much knocking around with all the major engines, I settled on Google. The interface is not what I would choose but it supports most of my applications.

What is driving me nuts is that it can't seem to figure out what I mean. It's great at looking for what I say but can't get a handle on what I mean. This is the Achilles heel of this technology. If you already know what you are looking for, they excel. If not, they actually waste your time looking through useless hits.

Here's an example. Several months ago, I had created a spreadsheet to show me the true costs of a VoIP provider. The spreadsheet compared those costs against the actual costs of my traditional phone provider. Now that I'm getting serious about getting VoIP, I went looking for this spreadsheet. The problem was that I hadn't actually put the term VoIP anywhere in the spreadsheet and couldn't remember the name of the providor I had run the analysis on.

Of course, I searched on VoIP, Vonage (a competitor), and Internet Phone. No luck. I found the file the old fashioned way. I picked through a bunch of folders until I saw the file name. At that point I slapped myself in the forehead and said "Oh right! That was the name of the file!" If only the search engine knew what I wanted rather than what I said.

I can already hear the shouts of "but that's not what it was intended to do!" True, very true. But that's what people want it to do. The problem - the real pain - is not that we can't remember where we put stuff. It's that we can't even remember what it was in the first place.

So, if you are one of those really smart people who knows how to find what I'm looking for, even when I don't know what I'm looking for, let me know. You will have my eternal gratitude.


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Tom Petrocelli said...

What? You know, this makes my point very well. Somehow, you found my blog but clearly, you did not intend to. Ah, the problems with search engines giving you what you ask for but not what you need.