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May 25, 2006 02:26 PM

Broken: search

I like the New York Times site and know several of the people there - but I have to describe a pet peeve that has been nagging me for years: why, of all sites, can't the NYT's search engine perform a simple search?

I wanted to find the online version of the "top 50 conservative rock songs" that I saw mentioned in today's (print) Times, so I searched for "conservative".

Nyt1Here's what the Times found: nothing.

So I remembered the mention of Pete Townshend in the article and searched on "Townshend" - bingo, there's the article - with "conservative" in the title. Nyt2

And here's the article itself, with conservative in the title.

My question: am I missing something obvious, or is the NYT search broken? I searched for "conservative" and it couldn't find an article in today's paper with the word "conservative" in the title. This has been a problem for years on and I finally thought I'd point it out.

Update August 16, 2006: Also see Broken: New York Times search results, posted today.


Broken. I've been frustrated by the same thing.

Posted by: Daniel at May 25, 2006 02:31 PM

Not Broken:

If you search "sortby/closest match" you get soemthing closer to the point... not what you are looking for, but something more "conservative"

Posted by: Horatio at May 25, 2006 02:33 PM

Wow, maybe they found something else for their fact checkers not to do.

Posted by: Pat at May 25, 2006 02:47 PM

The search engine doesn't put a priority on where in the text the word is found. I strongly suspect that it is simply a case of your search paramater being to vague.

How many results were there? The article in question may have been on the third or fourth page of results.

If the search function has a limited number of results that it can display then that is broken. However, just because the article you had in mind is not one of the first five doesn't mean that the search engine is broken or even that it didn't find it.

Posted by: Sean P at May 25, 2006 03:19 PM

The article is in today's paper. I searched for a word in the title. The results came back showing articles, from today's paper, without the word in their title. That is broken.

Posted by: Mark Hurst at May 25, 2006 03:26 PM

Too Vague. If you want to find top 50 conservative rock songs, the type "top 50 conservative rock songs" in the search box. Duh.

The NYT is geared for intelligent readers, they know how to use the features. You want to be spoon fed, try the Weekly World News.

Posted by: American Idiot at May 25, 2006 03:29 PM

After posting my comment I went to NYT and did just that. Search for "top 50 conservative rock songs" and geuss what, the NUMBER ONE response was your article.

"Listening to Rock and Hearing Sounds of Conservatism" By BEN SISARIO. So the search IS NOT BROKEN.

Posted by: American Idiot at May 25, 2006 03:34 PM

Not broken, just unfriendly. Your article is on the second page of search results. There's no reason they *have* to consider matches in the title more significant than matches in the article text. Find me an instance where it doesn't show up at all and I'll agree it's broken.

Posted by: Vince at May 25, 2006 03:49 PM

Of course the NYT search engine couldn't find "conservative" The times has always had trouble with that word

Posted by: Sam CAD at May 25, 2006 04:13 PM

Maybe this is just a bad example of it's poor performance. In this case each of the "conservative" results shown all are from today's paper, so your particular "conservative" article that you wanted to see is among many other articles that also feature the word conservative. Townshead is searching from a much smaller list of possible articles.

It's possible if you analyze each of the articles returned, the Sex Ads article wich is #1, really is more conservative than a list of song titles, which might only have conservative in the title and not featured as heavily in the body.

Search is definetly a tough thing to get right. Everyone wants the article that they're thinking of to be the number one result, but I could have been just as likely to hear about a conservative group pushing to remove soft drinks.

The other thing that would have helped your search would be to limit the date range to today intead of since 1981.

One other note, on my computer in Firefox, today's article was spread really far out, with the first screen cap at the top, then a 6 or 7" blank spot, second picture and then the comments.

Posted by: Joshua Wood at May 25, 2006 05:15 PM

Not broken. Conservative is too broad a term, and why should they search by date instead of by relevance?

P.S. I have the same problem as Joshua Wood.

Posted by: Fuzzy at May 25, 2006 06:12 PM

"...Not broken. Conservative is too broad a term..."

By whose standard??? We *can't* search by one word? Why the *** not?

Is it because the software finds it too broad?

That's the very *definition* of broken design - convenience for the software at the expense of the user.

Posted by: DaveC426913 at May 25, 2006 07:25 PM

Sean is right. It's just not persice (spelling?) enough to find what you want.

Posted by: Another guy named Alex B. at May 25, 2006 07:28 PM

Not broken - it clearly indicates that you are ordering your search results by 'newest first'.

Naturally, when you order search results by 'newest first', then the newest articles with any mention of 'conservative' in them, however small, will always be at the top.

Try ordering by 'closest match'. I suspect you may still have problems, but at least THEN you could claim it is broken.

Posted by: err at May 25, 2006 08:33 PM

I call it broken.. He is searching for NEWEST FIRST for an article that was posted TODAY! it should be on first page esepecially since conservative is in the title

Posted by: infinity306 at May 25, 2006 08:52 PM

Heck, even if you had just put "conservative music" you would see that what you were searching for came up as the top selection.

Posted by: Serenity at May 25, 2006 09:02 PM

"By whose standard??? We *can't* search by one word? Why the *** not?"

Of course you can. But if you expect that the search engine knows you mean conservative music when you search for conservative, you're broken.

"I call it broken.. He is searching for NEWEST FIRST for an article that was posted TODAY! it should be on first page esepecially since conservative is in the title"

And notice that all of the articles in the "conservative" search are dated May 25. There are simply too many articles with conservatives used in other contexts that push the one about music out of the first page.

Posted by: Fuzzy at May 25, 2006 09:49 PM


I would hope "conservative" would give me MANY options at a major news publication, and I could then narrow down using additional words.

It is a search!!! Give me some choices!


Posted by: not given at May 25, 2006 10:15 PM

Am I the only one wondering what the $%&* conservative music is? Is it, like, songs about drilling for oil in the Arctic and shooting welfare receipients and stuff?

Posted by: Corky at May 25, 2006 10:20 PM

> I call it broken.. He is searching for NEWEST

> FIRST for an article that was posted TODAY! it

> should be on first page esepecially since

> conservative is in the title

If you pay attention you'll notice that all of the results found have today's date on them. So again, it's not broken. It's simply listing all items with 'conservate' in them, ordered in the way he requested them.

If you want to find an article with maximum relevance you do not sort by 'newest first'.

Posted by: err at May 25, 2006 10:40 PM


If you're going to use broad search terms, why not just search for "top" instead?

Posted by: Andrew at May 25, 2006 11:04 PM

Wow... who'd have thought that a search using an uncommon term (townshend) would give better results than an extremely common term (conservative)? Why would one expect that, when searching a newspaper full of political articles, the search term "conservative" would list an article about music at the top? How does the engine know you're interested in music and not conservative judges, or conservative spending, or conservative senators?

Search engins are a tool. Like any tool, they require some user knowledge to operate correctly. Maybe a few decades hence this won't be the case, but for now the lack of mind-reading capabilities does not make for a broken experience.

Posted by: dmention7 at May 26, 2006 10:20 AM

i think there is a short circuit between the keyboard and the chair...

you might want to get that checked out

Posted by: osama at May 26, 2006 12:05 PM

Imperfect but not broken. Broad queries like this are very liable to come back with garbage on any search engine. You should almost never put only a single word into a search engine.

Posted by: Loren Pechtel at May 26, 2006 12:07 PM

What's really broken is that article. Most of the songs are really reaching for conversative linkings, and i think they're downright making some up. Somehow, I don't think Red Barchetta is protesting speed limits, and I'm betting the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, and Metallica surely weren't trying to be conservative. It's just a failed way to make the mostly liberal sect of rock musicians seem more conservative.

Posted by: Evan at May 27, 2006 02:05 PM

Maybe it's case sensitive :D

Also, it doesn't appear the NYT search engine looks at the titles... with a notable exception:

Posted by: Fox at May 29, 2006 07:22 PM

Fascinating! For you, the search finds "nothing" if it's not in the first few results on the first page, even with help indicating why the other ones matched.

Partly, I think there's a problem with all the Reuters articles which push the actual NYT articles down. Maybe a simple checkbox for "printed NYT only" (or something) would help.

Having the ads above the articles may be causing problems as well: it means that fewer article results are "above the fold" and therefore in plain sight.

Another problem is that despite being fairly clearly marked as "newest first" (i.e. sorted by date), there are no times given. If they are in fact sorting by day and time, showing it would help a lot. That might trigger the following logic: 'hmmm, May 25, 2006 6:45 pm. That article was in the morning paper, maybe I should go further on.'

IF they are not sorting by time, then for goodness sakes, they should sort by relevance within the day, so matches in the title should come up first!

There's some good evidence that providing multiple facets, exposing not just subject categories but also more mundane attributes such as date and source, helps in this kind of search. For more info, see and

Beyond that, there's not much a search engine *can* do with generic queries like that. If you walked up to the Times librarian and said "I'm searching for 'conservative'", you'd get nice reference interview. But interviews / wizards / step-by-step handholding are both hard to do on the web and generally rejected by users.

Posted by: Avi Rappoport. at June 1, 2006 10:18 PM

Not Broken You should have searched For the full title of what you were looking for intead of just one commonly used word that will lead to thousands of varied hits that could have nothing to do with what you were looking for.

Posted by: spacecase at June 12, 2006 03:11 PM

you think thats bad, you should try an music search

Posted by: Jeff at June 24, 2006 10:45 PM

If you look at the top of the search bar - you checked the box "Since 1981", there is an option for "Today". If you checked that box, your results would be shorter. Also, "Conservative" is a broad term. There are conservative politicians, conservative music, conservative policies. The term is too broad. Google conservative and you may get 455,908,820 pages matching your search, but I bet you that conservative music would be at the bottom. Remember when searching to be specific. Such as author name, date, topic, article name etc. If I want info on Disney's Grand Floridian Resort entertainment schedule - type all that in there, not "Disney".

Posted by: Tony Latino at July 12, 2006 01:15 AM

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