Monday, May 14, 2007

stupid search engine tricks

Specific searches get specific results. Right? It depends, actually. Here are a couple of examples:

I was searching for a particular edition of one of Josiah Warren's works, the full title of which is, believe it or not, The former title of this work was "Equitable Commerce", but it is now ranked as the first part of True Civilization: a subject of vital and serious interest to all people; but most immediately to the men and women of labor and sorrow. This is not to be confused with the first book to be published as True Civilization an immediate necessity, and the last ground of hope for mankind being the results and conclusions of thirty-nine years' laborious study and experiments in civilization as it is, and in different enterprises for reconstruction, published a few years earlier, and now, apparently, ranked as the second part. These long titles are, of course, exactly the sort of information you expect to be truncated in databases, so I was simply looking for books called True Civilization, written by Josiah Warren.

At Google Books, I first tried a very general search:

Author: Josiah Warren

and the results included five books: 3 editions of True Civilization, and 2 of Equitable Commerce. None of these was the edition I was looking for. But I was pretty sure I had seen it on the site before. After some searching, I determined that it was indeed there. But things get weird. A narrower search:

Author: Josiah Warren +
Title: True Civilization

returns four editions of True Civilization! The narrower search provides more results, even though it appears that the author's name is spelled correctly in the entry for the "now you see it, now you don't" 1869 edition.

I'm a little baffled. It appears that the search engine at Google Books either searches different author data, or searches the author data differently, depending on whether or not I have specified a title. That looks more like a bug than a feature.

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