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April 12, 2006

What happened to mysql.com Search?

A few years ago I would have argued that PHP.net and MySQL.com were a close match for the best sites for finding documentation on a specific function or command.

I have no idea when this change has happened but over the past few weeks I've gone to MySQL.com to look for a particular keyword, like "sort_buffer_size" or "Created_tmp_tables" and noticed that the search results were close to useless. But I wasn't dismayed because I figured these were obscure words that were best found by browsing to the page about configuration variables or server status.

Then just last week I was looking for information on creating descending indexes, which would likely be found on the CREATE TABLE page, which confirmed that things with search took turn for the worse somewhere.

Let's see, if I search for "CREATE TABLE" I get 54 results on the first page. Are any of them to the page dedicated to the "CREATE TABLE" command? No! Scrolling down to entry ~15 I see the DROP TABLE page is a match. I know if I click on that I'll get to a part of the manual where there's a link on the left nav to the CREATE TABLE page. Yes, that works, but isn't quite as good as having a CREATE TABLE page show up in the results.

Later on I'm searching for another phrase, ALTER TABLE, again for ordered index details. Rather than risk having to scroll down 50+ matches to see if it shows up let's try Google to see if it can get me closer. As expected, Google's first match for the phrase "mysql alter table" is the page I'm looking for. Turns out that MySQL.com has it as result 15, which isn't quite as bad as the "CREATE TABLE" search. But why would a document titled "Problems with ALTER TABLE" show up first, second, and third.

So why was it good before? To the best of my memory mysql.com used to display both the search results as well as a small list of commands that might match my terms. Back in those days I never even bothered looking to the search results because that small list of commands always had what I was looking for.

As I look down the search results now it seem like one factor in all of this is the splitting of the documentation into separate docs for the various versions. My search for CREATE TABLE pops up several of the "SHOW CREATE TABLE" documents for different versions. However, limiting the results to one particular version doesn't change the search relevance.

I should say that this is no reflection on the documentation itself, MySQL docs are excellent. It's just that getting to the specific documentation you need isn't what I think it was in the past.

So I guess for now I guess I'm switching to Google (Yahoo! also gets it right, for you Yahoo! folks) as an interface for finding information about commands in MySQL, and hoping that the search gets better at some point.

Can we get back that nifty command-only list? And I do find it interesting that mysql.com uses Mnogo rather than MySQL's fulltext indexing. Would the fulltext produce better results?

Update: Jim Winstead comments on why search isn't so great and points out that getting to these SQL command pages is as simple as going to http://dev.mysql.com/<command>. So to get to the CREATE TABLE page I can use http://dev.mysql.com/CREATE TABLE. That's better than having to search.

Posted by mike at April 12, 2006 5:38 PM