For nearly two decades, I've been preaching that search is a communication problem. While I appreciate the efforts from researchers and practitioners to improve result ranking, I've advocated investment into query understanding and document understanding. We need to understand what the user is looking for and know what we have, before we start judging the relative quality of matches. This is especially true for ecommerce.

Searchers trained on Google expect to be able to type in a few words in a search box and have it "just work". They are understandably frustrated when a search for "dress" includes dress shirts, or when a search for "cheap android phones" returns products that aren't even phones. There are few things more frustrating to a searcher than seeing large set of results that demonstrate the search engine's blissful ignorance of the searcher's intent.

da_9394bw-1.jpg#asset:419

The collective energy at Twiggle reminds me of my early days at Endeca.

Conversely, we can't rely of product listings to conform to a standard vocabulary. Manufacturers vary in the words and schemas they use to describe their products. Moreover, some concepts don't map precisely to product descriptions. Attributes like "mid-priced" or "intended for warm weather" require inference.

Last year, I started writing a blog on query understanding. I was surprised that there weren't already good resources for this topic and hoping I could remedy that. By providing a framework for query understanding and explaining basic approaches, I hope I've persuaded more search practitioners to invest in this area.

My blog also caught the attention of the excellent team at Twiggle, whose mission is to help search engines understand customers the way in-store employees do. When Twiggle approached me, I was delighted to see a company tackling the search problem with an approach so philosophically aligned with my own. I was even more delighted once I had the opportunity to use the product and see what a difference this approach made to the search experience. As someone who has seen a lot of ecommerce search applications — I was part of the founding team of Endeca — I was impressed.

I'm just as impressed with the founders and the team and culture they've built. The team brings together excellence in science, engineering, product, sales, and marketing, and a culture where people approach problems with experimentation and one other with mutual respect. The collective energy at Twiggle reminds me of my early days at Endeca.

In short, I'm excited to serve as Twiggle's Chief Search Evangelist. I'll be working with the team to refine Twiggle's product and message, as well as to help ensure customer success. It's not just about building better technology and products, it's about helping people find what they're looking for — by understanding what they're asking.