Idea for making questions easier to search

I got an idea for making questions easier to search.

The idea is this. Have an additional search field with the instructions “Describe in your own words what you want help with” or something. Then you click search and get some result. And then you can click somewhere to connect you search query with an answer.

It’s like a light weight duplicate mechanism. I got the idea when I saw this question:

The user wanted to add an additional question with the argument that the answer is very hard to find if you don’t know that you should search for “two’s complement”.

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I don’t 100% understand what you’re proposing.

It seems to be 2 distinct features - some special search field and some mechanism to connect queries to questions. I assume you meant questions, not answers, otherwise I’m even less sure of what you’re proposing.

If they’re one and the same, then the fact that you managed to find the question using those search terms means finding it with those terms is clearly fairly easy, so no additional changes seem necessary to specifically connect the two.

For the search field, how would this be different from a “regular” search field (or Google search)? If it’s a more detailed search field, it seems quite similar to what Stack Overflow is doing when you fill in your question (title, body and tags) and it proposes similar questions (but with the disadvantage that you presumably have to type in your question twice - once for searching and once for posting).

For connecting queries to questions, what exactly do you have in mind? How would you get from someone typing their alternative phrasing of the question into Google to actually getting the result they’re looking for? Or is this just for onsite search in case you search for something similar to the alternative phrasing? Although that’s probably not so useful as most people would be coming through Google.

Stack Overflow addresses the alternative phrasing search problem by having the alternative phrasing exist as a separate question that’s closed as a duplicate of the original. It’s not ideal, as you’re splitting it across multiple pages, but I’m not aware of any better way to do this (I would be interested in finding out whether there is one though).


You have a point. I need to ponder about that one.

I mean something in between those. Or maybe a combination. The basic idea is to somehow use peoples queries to improve future search results. Maybe it does not have to be separate from the main search function, but when I use the main search function on SO I often do not use it for more open queries, but rather detailed searches that utilizes the functionality of the search function, like filtering on certain tags, if it is an answer or question, if the question has an answer or such.

That’s very true. The questions this is aimed at is things you use google for. I guess the idea falls there.

Let me see if I understand the large scope of the idea.

Use data from previous searches as a crowd-sourced input to new searches

If user1111 used these search terms and found that post22222 was a good match then when user3333 enters a similar search we should bump up the rank of post22222 in the search results. Or something like that?

Well, search is hard in this domain, so something like this might help. What remains is to figure out how much of the process can be automated, if that is a good idea or Too Creepy™, and what UI to use for any non-automated part.

Yes, that’s basically what I am suggesting.

An obvious line of inquiry for automation would be up-votes following a search, but that won’t distinguish between posts the searcher found helpful because they clarified the question and those that actually gave them a working solution.

Yeah, definitely avoid the creepiness of trackers. Search engines (cough Google cough) already use “anonymized” data, manage to identify the users anyway, then sell the data.

The codebase being open source, one could at least look to see if data from nominally anonymized trackers is being cached and aggregated in scary ways. Security and privacy problems are hard but at least there would be the opportunity for lots of eyes.

I just think that “Can we do this?” should be followed by “Should we do this?” as a matter of course.

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This is a great idea and I think it should be clear why you’re getting the suggested results for your searches that you’re getting. The search results page should have multiple sections clearly titled/labeled explaining how the results in them are found.

For the general purpose search results, it would say “Results found by matching the rarest keywords in your query which should most probably distinguish problems” or something.

For the result type you’re suggesting, I think it could say “These posts are what other users thought you should find if you search for your query/keywords” and conversely, on such posts, there would be a section where you could add such leading queries titled something like “These queries are what other users thought would lead you to the post”.

If we’re thinking about the same thing, then I support this idea. But the details will obviously have to be worked out and polished with use.