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September 26, 2008

Advancing Search

There are two things that I still find very difficult to search for 1) narrowing a large list of results by parameters 2) finding a place to buy a product.

There are often cases where you get a large list of results for a search in which you'd like to improve the results by adding parameters. The most frequent example I run into is shopping for something generic and then filtering based on price and features. Many specialized search engines allow you to make an attempt at this, but often make it far too limited in scope. Perhaps you can add one parameter based on price and one based on a specific feature or brand but no more. Carmax is an example that actually does almost exactly what I would want. While their front page starting points don't really reflect what I want to do, once you drill into the search, you can easily add or remove all kinds of related and unrelated parameters. At each stage, it will list each remaining variable parameter and the number of entries in the subset. This makes it extremely simple to hunt down and isolate specific classes of vehicles of your own definition. For example, if you wanted to look for a sedan in Michigan that got better than 25mpg, was green, had a manual transmission, is a domestic brand, etc. etc., it is very easy to do. The only thing it doesn't allow is negative options. i.e. not a truck. eBay on the other hand uses a search method that often ties your hands to a limited scope of 1 or 2 parameters of specific types.

The other challenging search I often encountering is finding a store to purchase a product at. The obvious starting point is the manufacturer. They usually have lists of stores where you can buy the product, but the lists are often extremely short and contain stores with no local presence or no contact information whatsoever. In this case it would be really nice to add some kind of generic "I want to buy this" parameter to an online search, or even something as simple as a '$'. But I've yet to find any method of doing this. I usually just put the product in the search and then wade through the results looking for stores and shops. Further to that now, I need to weed out those odd store fronts that do nothing but display Amazon.com products for commission. Even if I could get that to work, I'd still like another parameter, like finding a store in Canada, or at least one that sells to Canada. Certainly there are specific specialized search engines for shopping, PriceGrabber comes to mind. I find that these often return few to no results and often what they return are the big shops that I already looked at and wanted to keep looking for a better price or a product in stock.


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