Can we have a auto-complete feature for our search box, similar to Gmail's?

The Problem:

  • It's not easy to remember all the available search operators in the Search Options.
  • There's no obvious direct link to go to the Search Options page. Newbie One only knows about it after reading the FAQ page.

The Idea:


  • When we start typing click in the search box, a dropdown appears with list of operators stated in the Search Options. After we select/type an operator with colon (:), there should be a hint/list of possible values for that operator.
  • When we start typing open square bracket ([) with a few letters, there should be a list of tags for us to choose from.

Sample mockup:

sample mockup

You can also think of it like Intellisense in Visual Studio / code-completion in some IDEs.

With this feature in place, I think the search functionality will be better than the major general search engines out there, as opposed by this old question.

Note: The idea is not to make you type in your query faster. The idea is to let the (new) users know/remember such operators in a convenient way without the need to go to the Search Options page.

UPDATE: I included more info / idea here in response to Grace Notes's answer.

  • I'd consider it even better if typing an isolated : would directly bring up the possible operators Nov 20, 2014 at 8:30

1 Answer 1


Tags could possibly work since we already have two separate methods of it elsewhere, so I'm going to instead focus on the first part.

The point of Intellisense/Auto-Complete is to basically assume it knows what you need and posit it so that you do not have to finish writing it yourself. Unfortunately, this doesn't work well with the search operators we have on the sites. To me, it seems like it'll simply get in the way, provide no actual help, or increase the time spent filling out the query.

  1. The majority of the operators take a variable numeric input. In some cases it is based on the ID of a question or user, in other cases it is based on the quantity desired on the filter. In both cases, the number tends to be filled out to the specific needs of that particular search, which is not easy to grab from context. So how would the system know what to suggest?
  2. The operators with fixed inputs are the 4 boolean operators of isaccepted, hasaccepted, closed, and wiki. They only have 2 possible options which are only 1 character in length. Anyone who knows how to use those searches will probably be able to input that singular character faster than waiting for the two suggestions and picking the appropriate one.
  3. It is far more likely that a user who won't intuit the binary flags will not actually know of the existence of those search operators. In which case, finding the Search Options page is more useful since it'll also explain the operators in English. Having the auto-complete suggest "0" vs. "1" doesn't really explain anything.
  • @Grace: Glad to hear your answer about the Tag part. I edited my question after reading your answer. Feedback on your points: 1) I don't quite get what you mean. The idea in my mind is pretty simple, everything is fixed and doesn't make any request to the system (beside the tag operator, of course). 2) The idea is to give indication of operators, not to let user type faster. 3) Don't know existence of operators = inefficient search. Finding (not going) Search Options page = Slow, Tedious, Troublesome.
    – Gan
    Oct 19, 2010 at 11:34
  • 1
    @Gan I'm glad to see your edits. It makes a lot more sense now. At that point, the only issues I have are personal distaste for extraneous UI elements, but that's something I can tolerate if it makes things easier for other users. Though, as a side note, the Search Options page is given any time you give an effectively empty search. Still not intuitive, so there's been requests to make it easier to find.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Oct 19, 2010 at 12:15
  • Wow, empty search, we didn't know that.
    – Gan
    Oct 20, 2010 at 1:32
  • Intuitive, that's the word I was looking for!
    – Gan
    Oct 20, 2010 at 1:35
  • @Grace: So, is my idea being considered / accepted? Could you modify your answer / add another answer based on your last comment, so that I can mark it as accepted? :)
    – Gan
    Oct 20, 2010 at 11:06
  • @Gan I'm not in charge of implementing features. I'm just a community member like you. If I were you, I'd hold that accepted mark until it actually does get implemented (or officially turned down, if your luck is bad).
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Oct 20, 2010 at 11:18

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