April 20, 2007

MSDN Webmasters: Read Peter Norvig!

Peter Norvig's an interesting chap. I mean, head of research for Google, that's got to be an interesting job, right? One of the blogs in Planet Python (I can't remember whose, unfortunately, because the "How'd I get here" button in Firefox can't tell me what Thunderbird was looking at when I clicked a link (oh, all right, three minutes research tells me it was Peter Bengtsson)) recently pointed me at a recent Norvig gem, the spelling corrector in 21 lines of Python.

I don't believe I've previously mentioned in these pages that I am dabbling with ASP.NET. Shrieks of horror resound around the halls of Holden Web. It's been interesting in the sense of the Chinese curse that dooms you to live in "interesting times". The learning curve is steep (and any regular readers of comp.lang.python will know that that metaphor has been lately subjected to the Belgian logic chopper, to nobody's very great illumination). But I digress.

One of the things I have spent a lot of time doing, given the large-ish nature of the framework I am trying to learn, is look things up in the MSDN documentation. Anyone who has corresponded with me will know that the standard of my typing is roughly the same as if you were to pay a squirrel to dance on the keyboard, which is to say I make typographical errors with a regularity that makes monotony seem interesting - the Secret Service characterize my typing style as "frequent use of backspace key". Consequently I have, in the last 24 hours, entered "sqldatasourec reference" into the MSDN search page no less than three separate times (see, when I find a way to bollix a word up I stick with it - I am only half a touch typist, so short entries not for human consumption are even more frequently wrong).

Three times I have been confronted with the helpful message "We're sorry, we couldn't find any results containing sqldatasourec reference". Now this is exceedingly strange. In trying to verify this behavior I made yet another error, entering the search string as "sqldatasource referenec", and while I saw the same(-ish) error message there was above it the helpful, dare I say Googlesque, question "Did you mean: sqldatasource reference" - which, of course, I did. Perhaps the correction corpus should be extended to include the subject material?

Just for devilment I entered the same two search phrases into Google's engine and sure enough it corrected them both. The obvious conclusion must be that Google know more about the content of MSDN than Microsoft do, but surely it wouldn't be fair to say that. Or maybe it would ...


Anonymous said...

Personally, I nearly always use Google to look in MSDN. I have a firefox shortcut-keyword which lets me type: msdn sqlserver datasource (or whatever) in the URL bar and we're away.

The problem is that a bunch of useful stuff isn't under the msdn... URL but under msdn2. Who knows why in these days of URL rewriting? I don't.

Jonathan Ellis said...

Yeah, back when I did ASP.NET I always googled site:msdn.com.

manuel moe g said...

What they said. Microsoft search on MSDN is notoriously bad. Use Google. Everyone else does.