How do we fix search?

Find stuff instead

Have you ever stopped to think about the difference between “trying to search for stuff” and “trying to find it”? 😕 If you’re like most people, the answer is probably not – I mean why would you? The phrases sound interchangeable enough.

However, if you’re like me, you’ve thought about these semantics at great lengths. Or, as my wife might say, ad nauseum. 🤢

Though the two sound similar at first glance, there is a whole world of difference between them – especially when it comes to computing.

To make my case, let’s first look at the definitions of the base words themselves…

  • Search is defined as: to “try to find something by looking or otherwise seeking carefully and thoroughly,” or “the act of searching for someone or something”.

  • Find is defined as: to “discover (someone or something) after a deliberate search,” or to “succeed in obtaining (something)”.

When we apply these terms to the digital world, it starts getting interesting.😎

SEARCH

For search to work, everything must be indexed. Search can be likened to a brute force method of making every single detail searchable to a user. The challenge is this puts the burden on you, the user, to craft a query to find what you’re looking for.

The most obvious example that comes to mind is performing a search in Google. When we do this, we’re using a series of keywords that we think will get us closer to discovering the thing that we’re looking for. However, we need to know what keywords to type. And we need to be prepared to sift through the variety of responses to our search query.

This means that search is great for exploring content that’s related to broadly applicable topics (such as “overlanding gear” or “mountain bike repair shop near me”). It's also great when you’re looking for ideas (like “how to achieve a better work-life balance” or “the best productivity tools for SMBs).

Where search falls flat is when you’re looking for something specific. This could be an email you know you received, a file you know you have stored in your Google Drive, or a note you know you have tucked away in Keep. 

Here are some questions from Quora that show email #searchfails:

To make matters worse, the rise of new products aimed at universal search simply compounds the problem. Sure, these apps allow us to search for content across absolutely everything on our computer and cloud, but they still leave users in the same place – but now with a bigger dataset and onus to sift, filter and sort through even more search results.

FIND

When you’re looking for something specific within your own content, that’s where find comes into play.

Find – unlike search – it’s all about successfully retrieving the thing you’re looking for. It is much more precise and assumes that the thing you’re looking for exists.

When it comes to the world of computing, find is usually much harder to build. That’s because it doesn't use a brute force method, but is rather far more elegant and targeted. For find to be successful, it must be contextually aware of what you need, how your things are organized and what’s the best way to get that thing back to you when you need it.

At Charli, we have a search function, yes. But what we’re really excited about is our find function. Though I’m a bit biased 😁, I think what we’re on to is pretty damn cool. Charli doesn’t just help users search for their stuff, it uses AI and contextual reasoning to help them find it – and find it fast. Giving you the right information at the right time from anywhere.💥

The next time you’re looking for something, ask yourself: am I trying to search for this, or am I trying to find it?