October 23, 2017

Meet Dan Garry, the Person in Charge of Wikipedia Search and Discovery

An interview with Dan Garry was recently posted on the Wikimedia Blog.

From the Introduction to the Interview:

The Discovery Department is responsible for ensuring that visitors searching for terms in different languages wind up on the correct results page, and for continually improving the ways in which search results are displayed.

Dan Garry leads the Backend Search team which maintains and enhances search features and APIs and improves search result relevance for Wikimedia wikis. He and his team have a public dashboard where they can monitor and analyze the impact of their efforts. Yet, they do much of their work without knowing who is searching for what—Wikipedia collects very little information about users, and doesn’t connect search data to other data like page views or browsing habits.

The interview between Melody Kramer and Garry includes several questions and answers. Here’s one exchange.

Mel: What has been the most unexpected thing you’ve learned through search?

Dan: There is a surprising long tail when it comes to the frequency of searches.

One of the first things we were asked by our community members is “Why don’t you make a list of the most popular queries that give zero search results so editors can make redirects or find articles that need to be written?”

The data is not that useful, as it turns out. In our analysis of the problem, some of the most popular zero result searches were “{searchTerms}” and “search_suggest_query” which we think are bugs in certain browsers or automated search systems.

We also found that a lot of people were searching for DOIs, which are digital object identifiers used by academic researchers. Most of the searches for those got zero results. We had to ask ourselves “What are people doing?” And we found there was a tool that let researchers put a DOI into it to see whether their paper was cited in Wikipedia. Of course, most papers that people are searching for aren’t in Wikipedia, so it’s actually correct to give them zero results!

When I started in search, we believed that users should never get zero results when searching. But it turns out that a lot of people were searching for things we don’t have and it’s correct to give them zero results.

Read the Complete Interview (approx. 1950 words)

Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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