Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Apropos of Nothing

This posting has nothing to do with gaming. I promise. Every once in a while, something occurs that so completely makes me go ballistic that I've got to write about it. I get so pent up with frustration that I must find release; but since I'm not allow to punch a kitten, I've got to find some other way. Is it Natalie Portman's pregnancy? Is it the utter collapse of Western pop culture (I'm looking at you, Jersey Shore)? No. It's the horrible search engine employed by Barnes & Noble.

They've created for themselves a nifty little gadget, called a Nook. It's an e-reader, and it's pretty snazzy. Just as I like to carry my entire Depeche Mode collection on my iPod, I like to be able to carry a library of books with me everywhere I go. "I am done with the poetry of Beaudelaire, so I think I shall read some Conan now," I can say to myself. So the Nook ha quickly become my nearest and dearest companion. When they change the laws, I'll marry it. Because it gives me what I want, and it doesn't talk back. Right now, I'm bouncing between The Stranger, by Max Frei, and The Next 100 Years, by George Friedman.

In a stroke of marketing genius, the Nook automatically connects to the wifi network at any Barnes & Noble store. I don't have to agree to any terms of service, or look at any ads -- it just connects, even if I don't ask it to. Then it asks me if I want to go to their Nook store. This is genius because they (the corporation) know exactly why I'm there and they're interested in giving it to me. I want to browse books and buy them on my Nook. It combines two disparate elements: I like to wander the stacks looking for synchronicity, and I like to handle a physical object; but I then want to buy a digital file. The publishing world knows how people like to buy books. The consumer is attracted by the cover, which gets you to read the back cover text, which (if they're doing their job right) gets you to open the book. If you do that, you're statistically more likely to buy the stupid  book. So the Nook store takes this into account.

Unfortunately, the Barnes & Noble search engine completely blows. While reading The Stranger, I was struck by how close the tone was to The Hengis Hapthorn series, written by Matthew Hughes. So I wanted to see if I could download Majestrum to my Nook. I couldn't find the book, because I'd forgotten the title. No problem, I thought, I'll do an author search. The B&N search engine produces every single combination of "Matthew" and "Hughes" it could find. I think it may have even made some up. But, see, I didn't ask it to spit out "Mike Hughes," or "Matthew Howard," or "Matthew Matthew." I wanted "Matthew" and "Hughes". I thought this was just B&N being extra super thorough. But then I searched for Evil for Evil, by K.J. Parker. It spit out every blankety-blank book with the word "evil" in the title. There are billion books that meet this criteria.

Really, B&N? I just want you to find what I asked for. Not what you think I asked for. If I search for The Tattooed Map, I really don't want 300 art books about tattoos. Thank you for playing, though. I thought initially that this was just something the Nook did, but the B&N website does the same ridiculous thing. How hard is it to search for just the words in my search string? When I search for "Matthew Hughes" that means I want you to search for "Matthew" AND "Hughes".

Therein likes the problem, I think. I'm an old-school web user. I remember a time when you had to use boolean search terms to find anything on the 'net. They're the words right out of Conjunction Junction: And, but, and or. So in the old days, you'd type in "Matthew and Hughes" and get what you wanted. That, and a  bunch of unrelated porn websites. Nowadays, however, when you use a boolean search term, Google kindly informs you that you no longer need to do that. To which I say: Hogwash!

(My long time friends may have noticed a distinct lack of cursing in this post, especially given my level of pique. But my friend Sara points out that I swear like a Russian sailor, and it's not nice. So I'm trying to clean up my act. Just substitute colorful, four-letter words where it seems appropriate.)

And as Google goes, so goes the world. Clearly, someone needs to re-acquaint the world's programmers with Conjunction Junction, and the utility of and, but, and or. Because I'm really tired of wading through 160 results when I search for Dune.

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