Often I notice that the search function seems a bit off.

Don't get me wrong, I've found lots of great questions and answers. It just appears, to me, that it heavily leans towards getting questions answered at the cost of leaning somewhat away from finding answers to questions. Which makes complete sense.

Possibly the greatest thing about SO is the great wealth of information left behind, but it can be rather difficult to find some of that information. This is especially noticeable to me when duplicates arise, yet the keywords in the title and question don't yield relevant results. IMHO, this is because people are trying to find their answers but don't.

I don't know what formulates the results, the only solutions I've personally thought of were a very clunky second search box or some sort of advanced search with a different style of search possible for finding archived results.

Seriously feel that there needs to be some work done there to make good answers more accessible.

The only time this has happened to me I feel is only a mediocre example. I have a question "Hard Copy vs Soft Copy" over at programmers. I looked around for a while but didn't find the question that later people said mine was a duplicate of: "Is it common to print out code on paper?" In this instance it was more my fault because even optimally, I wouldn't expect the search to find "Hard Copy" and "print" similar enough, and also I should have more logically just searched for "print". I've seen much better examples but they come and go and I forget them.

I feel strongly about this issue though because I am sure it is affecting many users, especially the newer ones. Is there a way to look at only closed questions? Some of the patterns are somewhat obvious in them.


I received a request from the system to detail why this question is different from A new search engine for Stack Exchange

First, this question refers to an entirely different search implementation from 2011 and the supposed duplicate does not.

Second, the other question is basically an RFC. Not asking for specific alterations. It is possible my critique of the old search could be a relevant answer but bears little resemblance to the question.

There ARE some references that strongly imply, though not fully spelled out, that questions and answers are differentiated these days. I have no knowledge of current SO search semantics but that is not surprising a decade later. A better answer to this question could likely be proposed.

Rules, audience, topics and etc were different then. Really this question is not a duplicate but does serve as an example Q&A that implyies a need for archiving without removal.

For anyone jumping in:

  • Old SO search promoted questions with no or few answers, and questions with unaccepted answers, rather highly. Mining for answers to check duplicates was sometimes a hassle.
  • Lucene replaced that, if not another implementation
  • Apparently Elasticsearch has replaced Lucene

Much of the above is now only historical.

These days it is somewhat like playing Jeopardy when you phrase a question; the content does not matter so much as the formation. Reframing into our current scenario is something like:

How can the benefits and tradeoffs of enabling search to distinguish between a request for questions and a request for answers be weighed?

Nothing from the referenced potential duplicate comes even in the ballpark of answering to the utility of discerning the two or whether the implementation of such a feature is worthwhile.

Finally the referenced question came much later and would therefor be a duplicate of this question, were they actually similar at all

  • 2
    The new Lucene search works subjectively better for me than the old. But indeed Google still provides results with higher relevancy (they simply have more meta data to go into the ranking).
    – mario
    Mar 19, 2011 at 23:58
  • @Mario: I do appreciate the search as is, I don't mean to act as if it is poor. Though I never experienced the old one,...but yes, you're right there, maybe I'll just make a toolbar or search addon that keeps site:stackoverflow.com in there. Oi. Mar 20, 2011 at 0:08
  • 3
    Examples of poor searches would do wonders to help us improve our search algorithm
    – waffles
    Mar 22, 2011 at 3:19
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    I often found (although this was against the "old" search) that you could find questions much quicker if you began asking your question (with no intent of asking it) and looking at the "Related Questions" list that it generated...(this is all within the "Ask Question" form) Mar 22, 2011 at 4:39
  • @Waffles ~ Um, I don't use the site search hardly at all ... So pretty much every query I've ever run on Google about coding would meet that criteria ... Hope this helps :p (Hey look, you guys write Q&A software and really good ones at that. Let Google write search programs)
    – jcolebrand
    Mar 22, 2011 at 5:09
  • Just missed the bounty deadline, plan to award it in 24 hours unless new answers pop up Mar 30, 2011 at 21:38
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    @mario: We actually have lots of metadata that isn't used. See my list at meta.stackexchange.com/questions/84150/…
    – Gabe
    Mar 30, 2011 at 22:29
  • Does this answer your question? A new search engine for Stack Exchange
    – Rob
    Nov 9, 2021 at 6:37
  • @Rob it does not seem to, though the new implementation of search does seem to take this question's concern seriously Nov 10, 2021 at 23:05
  • Your edit seems to argue for this being "no longer reproducible" (pertaining to a version of the site which no longer exists and thus obsolete), which is also a close reason
    – bobble
    Nov 11, 2021 at 0:48
  • @bobble the question pertains to the value or lack of value for differentiating answers and questions. the question is not tied to implementation, merely my motivation for inquiring was tied to implementation. do feel free to apply better phrasing and clarity if desired Nov 12, 2021 at 18:18

2 Answers 2


Posted some thing about this on this post are-duplicates-creating-broken-windows. It has to do with how users interact with the site. I don't feel it is ideal either. They need to do some use cases and come up with a better way of providing the primary functionality of this site.

Here it is reposted:

How would you want this to work as a new user, who is looking at this site for the first time.

We should look at this more like the internet. Many destinations, many start points and many ways to get there.

My use case would go some thing like this

Ask a Question.
Q: How do I ask a Question on Stack-exchange.

What should happen at this point.

The first thing a user should see is the input box to ask a question. As they type a list of answered questions is generated as it currently does. They can select which answers, answered their questions. If none of the question or answers that came up solved there problem then posting the question to the community should be the next step. I understand that you wanted to make it easy to ask questions, and you have done that excellently, may be the problem now is, making it easy to find answers.

I think we have confused the way thing currently work with the way we want them too work. Do we need to have a separate function or option for searching and asking a question. I would just combine this into one option. Ask a (question / search). Trying to keep things simple would go a long way to limiting the number of duplicate questions that keep getting asked.

Next keep track of the question as part of the users session. Now if they find an answer or question that works for them they should click the tick or up vote just like community members. Except the reputation should be handled differently for strangers as apposed to community members. Now the session which saved the question can be used to link their question to the questions and answers they find. You can start to build a meta index for questions and answers. Which should be used to improve search results.

Many people would ask the same question in many different ways. I don't think closing some thing as a duplicate, which is a high reputation problem needing 3000 rep to vote to close. I think it is a linking problem. Give people an easy intuitive way of linking similar questions to similar answers. If there are more then one way of asking a question, why limit it, keep it and use it.

It may seam like people are being stupid, asking the same questions in different ways. I don't feel it is their stupidity I think it is the interface has hidden the answers they are looking for. Maybe all they are looking for is clarity, but with out enough reputation, you cant comment on some one else's question, or answers. How can the find clarity other then asking the same question with may be different word order to emphasize the issue they are having.

Lastly it should be a lot easier to post ancillary question or comments when people need clarification. May be an "I don't understand" button which lets them ask a question on a question. This should to push the question back on to the hot question list. To expose it the community as needing clarification.

  • 1
    maybe we should have two separate searches one for people looking for answers and another for people looking for questions to answer
    – nelaaro
    Mar 24, 2011 at 8:56
  • I am going to have a serious look at http://stackapps.com/ to provide some better functionality. will post back once i have some thing interesting to look at. It may be a few months.
    – nelaaro
    Mar 25, 2011 at 7:33

This is impossible to respond to without specific examples.

I'll edit my answer when you edit your question.

  • If you try relevant keywords for any of the questions mentioned here you don't get the duplicates: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9686/… Mar 22, 2011 at 17:57
  • @jakub you mean questions titled "what's the meaning of {unsearchable noise characters}?" that's .. not surprising Mar 22, 2011 at 22:03
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    @Jeff Why are they unsearchable? Mar 22, 2011 at 22:39
  • @Jeff: I'm trying to find some of the original examples I had. Sorry, a bit busy. @Jakub: Special punctuation is a tough cookie to crack for searches! Mar 23, 2011 at 0:07
  • Actually the other answers to that question "What is the most rampant duplicate on Stack Overflow?" seem to have some great examples such as parsing HTML with regex. There's also a link within those answers to a duplicate of the question asking about duplicates... Mar 23, 2011 at 3:23
  • 1
    maybe it is subjective. Its about how the site feels. Its like UI design. It is subjective. If people feel it is not serving them in in the way they expected. How do you solve that problem, listen to what people are saying and try to figure out what they expected. It is usually because of feature bloat, which is why people become apple die hard fans it works the way they expected. I don't like apple because it does not work the way I expect. Subjective. I don't know that you can keep every body happy.
    – nelaaro
    Mar 24, 2011 at 9:02
  • @nelaar - I largely agree. The reality being that if I personally really want to, I can usually find almost anything I'm looking for by making better searches. My issue is with the results people are getting in general cause alot of noise. @Jeff - I keep looking at examples but I feel like I'll get the wrong ones to explain this, I wish there were some sort of case study. Mar 24, 2011 at 22:45

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