A Programmer's Dream

Good night, talk about Bad works

Posted by Stephen Wrighton on 22 Jan 2009

It takes a bit to shock me in regards to how a website works. Usually, if it consistently shows up, and returns data every time, then you're pretty far ahead of the curve.

And I like playing with new websites as I find out about them. I also like playing with new functionality of existing websites.

Today, a discussion on Pipl, the people-based search engine, came across my RSS feeds from LifeHacker. LifeHacker usually has good information, on it, and quite often I find myself quite pleased with the things that I learn from their blog.

So, I followed the link, wanting to check out Pipl's new search system for Usernames, Email & Phone Numbers. Not that big of a deal, I have a few email addresses--I figured I could search on them. For a control, I first searched for my real name in their standard search. I got back the usual smattering of 'Stephen Wrighton's: these include Mark S. Wrighton, chemist & Chancelor and a Facebook profile that also is Stephen Wrighton.

Satisified with that result, I clicked the Username option and entered my standard forum handle, "Kidan." Which returned references to Adam Kidan. Which, ever since he burst into infamy a few years ago, tends to be the standard for searches on Kidan.

Next I try the Email search, and boy did I hit the jackpot on that one.

I mean come on. I enter an email address, and get a results set that has absolutely NOTHING to do with the address entered?

I could understand if it didn't find anything. I could understand if it took a while to return results. What I can't understand is getting the wrong results.

My only guess is that this is do to AJAX and too many requests. Basically, the server is getting confused on the tokens that it's passing back and forth. Searches are apparently given a search ID or some type of encoded reference for the system to "remember" who gets what. I assume that what's happening here is that when too many requests come in at the same time, then two, or more, clients are getting the exact same encoded key. There's other possibilities for this, but they mean that Pipl and the developers behind this new search algorithm just don't care.

Frankly though, this is just a pathetic outing, especially for a search engine. I can handle my search engine telling me that a request timed out. I can handle a search engine coming back, saying that it didn't find any results. I can even handle results that aren't what I was expecting when I searched for a term (such as entering Stephen Wrighton, and getting results for Mark S. Wrighton or Steven Wright).

What I can't handle, and what destroys any hope of credibility for a search engine is when it comes back having absolutely no basis whatsoever on the search parameter I entered.

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