Monday, February 4, 2008

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

Pulling together my last post took a lot longer than it should have. Not that I spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about what to say; even a cursory reading should give the lie to that theory. No, it took a long time because I had a miserable time finding that infernal article on the satisfaction poll. There is no reason why this sort of task should take so long. It is a relatively simple and well-posed question. I'm looking for "that article I read a while back that contrasted poll results with widespread concern about the economy."

The problem is this: even after all this time, search technology still sucks. I couldn't remember exactly who wrote the article or how long ago, but I was able to capture the concept of "an article I read" by searching within Google Reader. Still, searches within that fairly limited set turned up a whole lot of nothing. The ultimate cause of the failure seems to have been that Professor Roberts was talking not about people's "concern" or "worry" about the economy, but rather their "alarm" over the subject. I doubt that I would ever have thought of that. I finally found it by scanning through my shared items (which you can also sample in one of our sidebar widgets, by the way) by hand.

This absurd state of affairs persists every time I have to search, whether on the internet or on my local disk. If I can remember a few key words, or better yet a complete phrase, I'll do all right, but if all I can remember is the gist of the piece, or a concept, it's pretty hopeless.

I'll be the first to concede that this is a fiendishly difficult problem. I certainly don't have any promising ideas, or I wouldn't be wasting my time telling our entire readership what they both already know: it's hard to find anything useful on the internet. And as excited as I am about getting specially targeted ads, just for me to ignore when I read my email, it just doesn't get at the fundamental problem: the "Information Superhighway" is really more like a trackless desert.

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