I know I’ve tried searching on the Web using keywords or phrases and been given a list, that although filtered through a “relevance” algorithm, still gives me mostly irrelevant content. Some folks say it’s just me being lazy with my search terms and that I should go to the advanced search options to narrow things down. Possibly.
Funny thing is, the search engine’s greatest strength, comprehensiveness, is also its downfall (even with Google’s relevance algorithm). It gives us everything, but that can be a whole lot of overwhelming everything, and it will still often include literal mentions of our search term that might not be relevant to us. Used to be, we didn’t have enough information to make decisions; now we have too much. Someone needs to tell search engines about Aristotle’s “moderation in all things” maxim.
I propose a focus on quality information. Now “quality” can be a nebulous and subjective term. If you are curious about how nebulous, check out Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig if you haven’t already. Persist with this weird hippiefied narrative, and you’ll get well into some of the complexities and subjectivities of quality. Quality is human, it’s a human judgment, not just based on an algorithm, but on a deeper knowledge of what’s significant for the inquiring human to know.
And that is our gift, the indexer’s gift, to humans looking to find what they want to know. We sift through to find the quality information based on a human understanding of the meaning of a text, not just a machine “relevance” algorithm, which relies only on visible terminology and not on actual meaning.
As we move forward into the shifting sands that make up the publishing industry today, whether on the web as blogs or in ebooks, or in large websites with lots of content, or in databases or apps, let us focus on the gift of quality that we, and only we, can provide. It may seem now as if that talent is not fully appreciated in the publishing industry as whole or on the Web, but it will be. For we provide that link of quality between the searcher and the vast ocean of information they face every day. We, with our human judgment of quality, we extract the fish from the ocean; we provide the quality catch.
PI Pick of the Week
Just because she’s an excellent writer as well as indexer, I’d like to introduce you to Paula Bain, who is blogging regularly on indexing subjects from her home in the UK. Just to show that indexing can actually be fun and funny, she’s reviewed a detailed index for a fictional biography of a television comedy character, Alan Partridge. Very clever and effective indexing in a wry context. Yes, there is such a thing as a comedy book index.