Dumb Smart Search

I was just trying out the new version of Napster and when I searched for “China Crisis” I got results that included David Sylvian and Asia albums.

Why might that be?

Well, David Sylvian used to be in a band called “Japan” which is close to China and “Asia” is where China is.

I’m surprised I didn’t get “Dishwalla” as one of the results!

Napster seems to have some sort of “concept” search algorithms in use that really doesn’t make sense in this context. Given that Napster knows I’m searching for an artist, it seems that there are two approaches to expanding search beyond the original term, “spelling” and “related projects”.

There are band and artist names that are hard to spell or that you only vaguely remember from youth (was “Hitchin’ A Ride” done by Vanity Fair or Vanity Fare?). In this case implementing something like Google’s “Did you mean…?” feature would be very smart. I want this kind of help so I don’t have to remember how to spell Alanis Morissette (Napster catches typos on her last name).

If I’m searching for “Tin Machine” it might be useful to offer results for frontman David Bowie as well. “Related Projects” searches could be very helpful particularly when you remember David Byrne singing some song but you don’t realize that it was from a solo album not a Talking Head disc.

The problem with Napster is a search on Tin Machine produces “Tony McKinney”, “More Machine Than Man”, “Nick Gilder and Time Machine” and (very oddly) “The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem”. These are guesses at possible typos but because they aren’t identified as such it looks like they have a really bad search feature.

Lessons Learned:

1. Smart search is dumb if it does not take into account the user’s goal in doing the search in the first place.

2. Tell the user why you are presenting results that are not expected (“No matches found for Tin Machine. Did you mean…? Artists related to Tin Machine include…”).

3. Hard code results for very popular searches so you can give really relevant information.