Searchers Punt Early

Amidst the usual creative spellings and phonetic thrashing around (“napolinian dynomite”) that I see in the search logs, I’ve noticed a small but distinctive subclass of searcher behavior. People type as much as they are sure of then, instead of making a mistake, they stop typing and submit the fragment to the search engine. Said that way, it kinda makes sense, but search algorithms are tuned for complete, if imperfect, attempts instead of exact prefixes.

Here are some selected examples from logs.

  • Frank Gehry
    • frank g
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
    • the adventures of baron
    • baron munch
    • baron munc
    • baron mu
  • The Last Mimzy
  • Final Fantasy
    • final fan
  • Apocalypto (lots of misspellings)
    • apocalypse
    • apocalypso
    • apacal
    • apoca
    • apoc
    • apo
    • ap
    • rudy (yeah, that one is for real)
  • Ratatouille
    • ratatou
    • ratato
    • ratat
    • rata
    • rat
    • ra
  • Koyaanisqatsi
    • koyaanisq
    • koyaanis
    • koyaani
    • koya
    • coonskin

The “coonskin” query may seem bizarre, but that is exactly what phonetic search is tuned to solve. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to be that brave or that deluded.
Querying for “mimsy” instead of “mimzy” is a typical, supported phonetic match.

The Koyaanisqatsi example is the one that tipped me to this other behavior, with additional evidence from Frank Gehry and Baron Munchausen. Note how they get the double-“a” in Koyaanisqatsi, but freak out at the “q” not followed by “u”. They are almost there, then punt because they are not sure what to type next.

Is this behavior learned from auto-completion, from texting completion, or is it caused by our reluctance to make mistakes? Maybe it doesn’t matter, since I need to help these folks regardless.

This is probably best addressed with auto-completion, not matching in the engine.

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