Synopsis: Poor Man’s Search Engine

Let’s learn how using search for extensive collections causes an antipattern.

I was working in a technical support job in 1995, at a time when companies were just starting to adopt the Web as a way to provide information to their customers. We had a collection of short documents describing solutions to common support questions, and we wanted to put them on the Web in a knowledge base application.

As the collection grew, I quickly realized that it needed to be searchable because customers didn’t want to browse through hundreds of articles to find what they were looking for. One strategy would be to organize the articles into categories, but even these were too large, and many articles belonged in multiple categories.

We wanted our customers to search the articles, narrowing down the list to those matching any criteria. The most flexible and straightforward interface allowed the customer to enter any set of words and show them the articles in which those words appear.

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