Mobileread
Smashwords Search
#1  nikkie 10-29-2020, 05:23 PM
Hey folks.

I work at Smashwords and wanted to request some feedback from interested folks about our search engine. It has changed quite a lot over the last 10 years and gone through a number of backend iterations but remains a sore point for some of our users. Unfortunately we aren't the size of Google and so we can't do everything they do, but I would like to make things a bit better for users when possible.

Some background:
We replaced the primary search engine technology around 5 years ago and built a completely new index, but at the time left the frontend as it had been for a long time. It searched the database for exact matches for titles, authors, series, and isbn but deferred the full text to our search engine. The exact matches showed above the full text results, so often when we got complaints it was unclear whether they were referring to the suggested type-specific results (authors, series, titles) or the full text results below. Since then we have changed this and moved more of these searches to directed searches for title, tag, or full search.

At that same time we added an auto-complete feature that could quickly recognize and auto-suggest titles, authors, and series so that those could be searched automatically and for the full title if you know it. When we added auto-complete it didn't quote the title, so at the time it was still possible to get semi-poor results when searching from the autosuggestion, but since then we have changed that so those results should always return good results for anything auto-suggested by the search box.

I'm in the process of re-designing the way our index works as well as a complete re-design of the frontend for search to make it easier to find books, series, and authors. We also have a goal of making filtering by book properties (word count, categories, etc) possible and searches by topic or tag more sortable by useful properties so people can more easily use the search engine for discovery of new books.

I've looked through anonymized search data from our logs and have some idea of what users are trying to find and why but would like to hear directly from interested readers (or authors). If you are using our search engine for something other than finding books to purchase (think of davidfor and his plugin here), feel free to comment as well.

If you have feedback, could you provide info on:
Apologies if this isn't the correct area for this. It's been a while since I was active here so I don't remember all the norms. Feel free to move this to a different area if needed.

Thanks in advance!
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#2  maddz 10-29-2020, 06:10 PM
I don't often do searches, but when I do, I find the experience less than optimal. I'm primarily interested in SFF, more fantasy than SF.

My primary use is searching specific authors (I'm slowly replacing physical books with electronic editions) so I generally want to see exact results as I'm after reverted backlist titles. I'm not usually interested in partial matches here - if I'm checking Sherwood Smith, I don't want to see other authors whose names include Sherwood or Smith. On the other hand, S N Lewitt also uses Shariann Lewitt, and Brenda Clough also uses B W Clough, so I'm not sure what to suggest; perhaps consider combining authors? Looking in my library favourites, some authors have 2 or more individual entries:
Melissa Scott x 3 & Melissa Scott Amy Griswold
Mike Resnick x 2
Nancy Kress x 2
S N Lewitt & Shariann Lewitt
Sherwood Smith x 2

(Talking about favourite authors, please consider a direct link in the 'your account' dropdown menu - I have to hunt for the list every time!)

I don't find tag searching at all useful; there's too many results because authors throw tags around like confetti. Ditto genre searches; about the only time I use that is during the sales, and I usually stick to a fairly high level. What I would find useful is being able to select a tag or genre, and be able to see the author list who have a book with that tag or genre, and then I could go into the list of titles by that author.

The ability to limit the search to titles in a specific language, and also to exclude any titles translated into that language (i.e. the primary language only).

Hope this gives some ideas.
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#3  JSWolf 10-29-2020, 08:05 PM
How can one see prices in a different currency?
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#4  nikkie 10-30-2020, 01:28 AM
Quote JSWolf
How can one see prices in a different currency?
Currently all prices are only in USD.
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#5  nikkie 10-30-2020, 01:43 AM
Quote maddz
My primary use is searching specific authors (I'm slowly replacing physical books with electronic editions) so I generally want to see exact results as I'm after reverted backlist titles. I'm not usually interested in partial matches here - if I'm checking Sherwood Smith, I don't want to see other authors whose names include Sherwood or Smith. On the other hand, S N Lewitt also uses Shariann Lewitt, and Brenda Clough also uses B W Clough, so I'm not sure what to suggest; perhaps consider combining authors? Looking in my library favourites, some authors have 2 or more individual entries:
Melissa Scott x 3 & Melissa Scott Amy Griswold
Mike Resnick x 2
Nancy Kress x 2
S N Lewitt & Shariann Lewitt
Sherwood Smith x 2
Yeah, we definitely need better handling for authors with multiple pen names. It's not something we offer right now but something we want to do. We do offer the ability to create "ghost accounts" after converting the author account to a publisher account which can be used for this purpose but it's not really optimal for pen names and so most authors don't use it for that purpose. Until we are able to collect the metadata to know that author accounts are the same person though, we can't really offer searching for it. Probably not on the short term list.

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(Talking about favourite authors, please consider a direct link in the 'your account' dropdown menu - I have to hunt for the list every time!)
This is a great idea. I cleared it with my boss and we should be able to add that.

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I don't find tag searching at all useful; there's too many results because authors throw tags around like confetti.
I'm with you, I don't really see the appeal. But a surprising amount of our searches are for tags (almost 45%) so making sure those who use this can get what they want is on our list of things to ensure.

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Ditto genre searches; about the only time I use that is during the sales, and I usually stick to a fairly high level. What I would find useful is being able to select a tag or genre, and be able to see the author list who have a book with that tag or genre, and then I could go into the list of titles by that author.
I think it makes sense to add filtering ability to author search. Authors aren't directly associated to categories though (we'd pull it from their books) so it'd be a little awkward but I think not unduly so. I'm not entirely sure how common your use case is. As a note, it seems like some of what you're trying to do with search might be accomplished using the Author Alerts feature for authors that we have on our site.

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The ability to limit the search to titles in a specific language, and also to exclude any titles translated into that language (i.e. the primary language only).
We definitely plan to add a language filter to the search engine. It's been on my personal wishlist for a very long time. We don't have metadata about whether a book is translated or not currently so we can't currently filter on that property.

thanks for the notes! I'll keep these things in mind going forward.
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#6  maddz 10-30-2020, 03:35 AM
Quote nikkie
This is a great idea. I cleared it with my boss and we should be able to add that.
Great!

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As a note, it seems like some of what you're trying to do with search might be accomplished using the Author Alerts feature for authors that we have on our site.
Ah, but that pre-supposes you know the author is on Smashwords in the first place! It's finding the author in the first place that's the issue. Besides, I limit personal emails from websites; I have to deal with enough emails at work that I reserve personal emails for friends and relations. Also, Google tends to consider such messages spam and every so often I have to go into my spam folder and un-spam the messages (and I dislike wading through sewers).

I think the problem with tags/genres is that if it's a free choice, the temptation is to put a tag/genre even if there's only a very minor element involved in the book. Unfortunately, I think the only way to deal with that is to have a list of genres with associated sub-genres and common tags, and only permit authors to pick 1 or 2 genres, and 1 or 2 sub-genres per genre, and then a limited number of tags from a list of standard tags associated with that genre/sub-genre combination.

Too often I'm looking through book descriptions associated with a genre filter, and wondering why it's been added to that genre. Unfortunately, doing that does not make me want to touch that author even with a barge-pole. It seems to be authors of romance novels that do that; and frankly I never much liked romance novels even when I was a teenager; I preferred boys fiction. (Fortunately our library didn't have any issue with what I read - the librarian might check with my mother if she thought the book was on the smutty side for a teenager in the 70s.)

Another possibility would be the ability to exclude books by genre when searching. This might be helpful to narrow things down; so if I want fantasy, I can say don't include books that are also in the romance genre or don't include the LitRPG sub-genre/tag.
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#7  DuskyRose 10-30-2020, 11:49 AM
Quote maddz
I think the problem with tags/genres is that if it's a free choice, the temptation is to put a tag/genre even if there's only a very minor element involved in the book.
This I agree with. I think too many authors want to put every conceivable tag on their book so it will pull up as much as possible. I think the site should have some limits. I'm not sure the best way to go about it.

And maybe I'm missing it, because I've pretty much given up looking for it, is that subcategories under LBGTQ subjects/characters. I can select [Gay/Lesbian], but it's always general stuff that shows up. I can't search for Mysteries with gay detectives. I can't search for fantasy with gay characters. It's just all bunched up under one tag, and I have to guess by cover. And covers don't represent well.

I may find a book I'm interested in with those subjects, then come to Smashwords to compare formats and prices, but I'd never just find them easily when browsing. So, I've quite browsing there.
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#8  nikkie 10-30-2020, 03:52 PM
Quote DuskyRose
This I agree with. I think too many authors want to put every conceivable tag on their book so it will pull up as much as possible. I think the site should have some limits. I'm not sure the best way to go about it.
I hear you. We aren't sure what the limits should be either. If we try to limit it more, historically, some authors get really upset.

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And maybe I'm missing it, because I've pretty much given up looking for it, is that subcategories under LBGTQ subjects/characters. I can select [Gay/Lesbian], but it's always general stuff that shows up. I can't search for Mysteries with gay detectives. I can't search for fantasy with gay characters. It's just all bunched up under one tag, and I have to guess by cover. And covers don't represent well.
This is a good point. Our store allows you to browse categories to find things like gay/lesbian or mystery but we don't allow you to filter those books in those categories by their second category. (Each book can only have 2 categories attached, and unlimited tags.)

Secondary categories has historically been quite an awkward feature. Most of our retail partners don't support ingesting them so they've just been listed on books in our store but not really aiding in discovery anywhere.

For this kind of search, I think that Thema is a much better classification system. I think pulling gay or lesbian from the qualifier list and one of the mystery subjects would be a very sensible way of classifying a book like this and make it easy to discover. We don't currently accept Thema metadata but IMO it would be a very sensible add. Our biggest problem is that most of our retail partners don't support it yet.

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I may find a book I'm interested in with those subjects, then come to Smashwords to compare formats and prices, but I'd never just find them easily when browsing. So, I've quite browsing there.
Hopefully adding the ability to search by secondary category should help in the short term!
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#9  theducks 10-30-2020, 10:22 PM
Please limit synonym / homophone tags.
Do we need 47 ways Magic is spelled? Or all the Variations of Science Fiction?
Give the YOUR standard pick list (which you can update if they make a strong case for the one THEY need)

IMHO 6 Tags should pretty much set most. 2 Key characters, the Series and 3 main categories
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#10  JSWolf 10-31-2020, 08:55 AM
Quote nikkie
Currently all prices are only in USD.
Are there any plans to change this so those from outside the US can buy from Smshwords? If not, can plans be put in place to do this?
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