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I'm trying to search "cannot modify header information" So I searched for "cannot modify header information" and after that pressed "votes" (sort by votes). Suddenly most upvoted questions on SO appeared

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I doubt anyone will ever beat Google Search - they were the first to come with good search, they are still the best. Not even SO can beat it so why not use it? :) –  Shadow Wizard Sep 11 '11 at 10:11
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@Shadow because Google search can't sort by votes. I agree with this - the results in this view are really crap, 100% of the time –  Pëkka Sep 11 '11 at 10:13
    
@ShadowWizard: if you spotted that, I'm looking for most upvoted questions. These sorted by relevance are highly downvoted –  genesis Sep 11 '11 at 10:13
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@genesis: Put quotation marks "" around the phrase, then it should work. The problem is that SO uses OR search as a standard, meaning that anything containing one of the words will be found if you don't put "". –  Hendrik Vogt Sep 11 '11 at 10:16
    
Good call, didn't see it from your point of view. Would be interesting to see if it's really a bug though. –  Shadow Wizard Sep 11 '11 at 10:17
    
It's not a bug, but search is following the letter of the law here, not its spirit. This specific view could definitely use some improvement. –  Pëkka Sep 11 '11 at 14:02
    
@Pekka: tell me please, where do you see any of these words in results –  genesis Sep 11 '11 at 14:07
    
@genesis I bet each of the hits contains the word "Information" somewhere. It's a boolean search after all, not every keyword needs to be present... As said, I agree this sucks, and never leads to any useful results. –  Pëkka Sep 11 '11 at 14:13

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Well, you did cast relevance into something of oblivion when selecting votes, however, the highest voted results are just less relevant, not irrelevant and here is my hunch as to why:

  • The first question contains (somewhere in the thread) the words "cannot" and "information"
  • The second question contains (somewhere in the thread) the word "information"
  • The third features (somewhere in the thread) the words "cannot" and "modify"
  • And so on.

I think the "problem" is the sheer volume of questions and the generality of the words used individually: but the search seems to be doing its job; for instance, if you searched "cannot modify header information" (including the wrapping double-quotes) then you get only results containing that exact string. Sorting these by votes manages to maintain more relevance.

Arguably, it could be improved but it isn't broken, per se. for example, some of these individual words only show up in comments when perhaps that isn't entirely practical.

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With AND searching by default now, you'll see only the posts matching all terms, including when you flip to another tab such as votes.

For example: here's your search for "cannot modify header information" sorted by votes.

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