Metadata and search – a concrete example

[18 August 2009]

Here’s a concrete example of the difference between the metadata-aware search we would like to have, and the metadata-oblivious full-text search we mostly have today, encountered the other day at the Balisage 2009 conference in Montréal.

Try to find a video of the song “I don’t want to go to Toronto”, by a group called Radio Free Vestibule.

When I search for “I don’t want to go to Toronto”, I get, in first place, a song called “I don’t want to go”, performed live in Toronto. When I put quotation marks around the title, it tells me nothing matches and shows me a video of Elvis Costello singing “I don’t want to go to Chelsea”.

It’s always good to have concrete examples, and I always like real ones better than made-up examples. (Real examples do often have a disconcerting habit of bringing in one complication after another and involving more than one problem, which is why good ones are so hard to find. But I don’t see many extraneous complications in this one.)

4 thoughts on “Metadata and search – a concrete example

  1. I suspect the problem here may be that there simply aren’t any videos of Radio Free Vestibule performing that song (in Google’s index, at least). Perhaps a better example is one where the title is well-known, but not unique, ie occurs in other contexts more frequently. For example, I tried to search for a videos of songs called “Birthday”. You have to search for “birthday beatles” to find anything useful. What if you want to know whether there are other bands doing covers of “Birthday,” say? That might be difficult to ferret out using Google.

  2. Doing a general Google search for [“I want to go to Toronto” video] suggests that there is no such video widely available. Indeed, this very posting is result #8 in that search. I don’t think Google can be blamed (and this is not a partisan comment!) for coughing up a hairball of low-quality results when you ask for something nonexistent. They can’t hurt and they might help.

  3. Michael and John are both right that Google’s behavior can be explained in part by the absence of any videos of the song in question in Google’s video indices.

    John does not need to defend Google here. My point was not to complain about Google per se, but to illustrate a search in which the difference between fielded searches and unfielded keyword searches matters. Michael Sokolov’s example (covers of the song “Happy Birthday”) is another good one.

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