Amazon’s Search Engine — Finally, A Good Example

I’m not going to give you a context because you’ll have more fun thinking up your own. So I’ll just say that last week at work I had occasion to type the following query into Amazon:

Anthology of American Literature Douchebag

(Yes, I know it’s not a clever word. I plead melted brain.)

I got one result.

I must admit I did run that query in response to a joke that one of my co-workers made. They were very surprised when I started poking the monitor with my finger, screeching, “Dammit, that’s why I hate this search engine! Because I get these kind of results! I should not get a result for Anthology of American Literature Douchebag!”

Now, the obvious question is “How did Amazon come up with that result?” Amazon got that result because the book in the search result (The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature: The Collected Writings of Neal Pollack, if you care) has, on page 48, the word “Douchebags”. Not quite enough of a connection, in my opinion, to warrant an actual returned result. Because this happens a lot when I try to search Amazon. I get a lot of results that seem entirely superfluous to what I’m actually looking for, and it gets tough to shop.

Now, Amazon’s advanced search page for books is actually very nice. The only thing I’d ask for is the ability to search by published date range instead of before, after, or during. But the advanced search page is not easy to access — one ends up sticking with the simple query box.

Here’s what I’d really like to see. I’d like a simple query box like normal on Amazon, but a pulldown menu that allows you to specify one of three depths of search:

Surface — Searching only the title, author, publisher, and year of publication. The absolute minimal amount of information available on a book.

Shallow — Searching title, author, publisher, year of publication, tags, publisher’s description, and editorial reviews. More information, mostly dedicated to general descriptions of the book and its theme.

Deep — Searching everything — vital stats, reviews, tags, excerpts — EVERYTHING. Including the actual excerpts or entire text from the book.

As it stands, it’s not easy to do a general search. The data pool’s just too big. But if you had a way to easily slice that data into three depths as I described above — man, the searching would get so much easier. (And I’m not afraid to tell you I’d spend most of my time in the surface search.)

Strangely enough for all that Amazon’s search drives me around the bend, I love love love the Amazon ECS. Easy to use, great documentation, malleable results. And the most recent version, if I recall correctly, supported tag search. I wonder if I could use it to get some idea of depth…

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