August 19, 2008

LinkedIn name search is ridiculously bad

Somebody named Conor O’Mahony has posted excellent comments about XML databases on a couple of DBMS2 threads. After a look at the blog URL he provided and the job description he posted there, I resolved to look him up. LinkedIn seemed as good a way as any of figuring out where he was geographically located. But on the first try I typed his name from memory as Conor Mahony. LinkedIn had no idea who I meant.

Once I confirmed that he was indeed listed, I went on to test such errors as Connor Mahony, the very common misspelling of my name as Kurt Monash, and several variations on Dan Weinreb. Almost nothing worked. LinkedIn did get Daniel/Dan, and didn’t require the hyphen in Tony Lacy-Thompson, but otherwise pretty much every misspelling I could think of stumped it.

For a high-profile website that revolves around proper names, that’s a pretty pathetic performance.

And it’s of course possible to do better. For example, I went to IMDB, and it correctly recognized that Stuart Granger was likely to refer to Stewart Granger. (But LinkedIn hasn’t a clue that Stewart Frost might be a misspelling of Stuart Frost.) IMDB also has a pretty good idea that Curt and Kurt are likely to refer to the same person, as is evidenced if you put in the wrong first-name spelling for Curt Jurgens or Kurt Russell.

Comments

9 Responses to “LinkedIn name search is ridiculously bad”

  1. Daniel Tunkelang on August 19th, 2008 10:34 am

    LinkedIn is a Lucene shop–see http://www.slideshare.net/linkedin/linkedins-communication-architecture for more details about their architecture. I’m not sure what IMDB is using, but I imagine that they can draw on technology, expertise, and resources from Amazon.

    I’d love to see LinkedIn improve its search functionality. Beyond the basics, like better spelling suggestions, they could be a poster child for exploratory search.

  2. Martin Griffies on August 19th, 2008 10:55 am

    Using Lucene dies not exclude the use of taxonomies, data dictionaries or whatever for semantic or extended search. I guess it’s pure laziness or other distractions on LinkedIn’s behalf.
    Having said that, they seem to add useless features at intervals rather than improving the search, which I also find poor.

  3. Mike Tuchen on August 20th, 2008 8:29 am

    I find LinkedIn incredibly useful in many business contexts, but agree its search is decades behind the state of the art. Another set of simple things it’s missing include any concept of boolean search (everything is hard “AND”), most fielded searches beyond a couple trivial things, or any kind of metadata exploration. On the latter point, it’s got one of the best set of fielded metadata around but almost completely ignores it from a search UI perspective even in their paid subscription tiers. I hope the LinkedIn folks hire a great search technologist sometime soon – they’ve done a terrific job of becoming a must-use business tool but haven’t yet built the system that meets some of their users’ basic expectations.

  4. Carlo on August 24th, 2008 5:38 pm

    That’s definitely an area to improve. Luckily, I haven’t really come across a name that easy to misspell.

  5. Otis Gospodnetic on August 28th, 2008 10:15 pm

    LinkedIn does use Lucene, but let’s not even hint at *that* being the source of the problem. It’s a matter of LinkedIn using tools (like Lucene and its cousins) in clever ways, that is all.

  6. Daniel Weinreb on September 1st, 2008 4:48 pm

    I also asked LinkedIn to provide a way to ask “Find people who worked at BOTH X and Y”. Every so often that would be useful.

  7. B McKenzie on September 3rd, 2008 2:14 pm

    You want bad? Netflix. Spectacularly bad if you don’t know how to spell a title, plus it doesn’t support any sort of compound query.

    My latest example was searching for “Akeelah and the Bee”. Given that I got the tip verbally I had no idea how to spell Akeelah (“Ach…”) and “Bee” doesn’t show it. Had to got to IMDB and then back.

    Two thumbs down for NF.

  8. Tony Lacy(-)Thompson on January 23rd, 2009 3:54 am

    Curt,

    I am honored that you used my name as a test case for searching LinkedIn. As it happens, the hyphen optional, and is more of a late 20th century addition, but especially important in the US. In the UK I could go to any theatre (theater) box office and have no difficulty picking up tickets under the name “Lacy Thompson”. Here in the US, picking up a prescription requires many repititions of “the last name is LACY-Thompson. Yes, look under “L”, etc.” If only the name had come with more money…

    Tony L-T

  9. Tony Lacy(-)Thompson on January 23rd, 2009 3:54 am

    Curt,

    I am honored that you used my name as a test case for searching LinkedIn. As it happens, the hyphen optional, and is more of a late 20th century addition, but especially important in the US. In the UK I could go to any theatre (theater) box office and have no difficulty picking up tickets under the name “Lacy Thompson”. Here in the US, picking up a prescription requires many repetitions of “the last name is LACY-Thompson. Yes, look under “L”, etc.” If only the name had come with more money…

    Tony L-T

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