Software makes LookSmart LookDumb 
See the Cheers and Jeers 2000 article in  Information Today January, 2001. 


The free FindArticles full-text database of LookSmart (created from records of various databases of the Gale Group) earned my cheers but the software deserves jeers, especially for a particularly careless decision that could be easily corrected but LookSmart does not seem to care about it and this makes it LookDumb 


Every record is assigned one or more pre-coordinated index term(s). These are made by combining a subject heading and a subheading. Traditionally it looks like Convention facilities -- Hawaii. The emdash is  converted into a slash when displaying the subject heading -- subheading term  by LookSmart programmers as shown on the top of the record.

Click here to see the whole screen shot!


The help file advises you to click on these subject headings to search for related articles.
Do so, and watch what is happening.


The automatically generated query produces 720,970 articles related to Convention facilities in Hawaii. Hawaii is quite popular for conventions, but nearly a quarter million articles seem a tad excessive. Obviously, the words in the query are searched in an OR relationship. Even then the number of records is extremely high. The total of the three words ORed together would be only 148,232  or less if two or more of the words occur in the same record.

Don't you believe that some magic ranking algorithm brings the most relevant record on the top of the list.  The first few I checked were totally irrelevant.

Click here to see the whole screen shot!



Click here to see the whole screen shots!


What gives? Possibly, the slash character is also searched, so all the records that have pre-coordinated index terms with the slash sign are considered hits. So are records that have this character in the title, abstract or full text. Interestingly, when the same query is entered manually, the results is "only" 140,372 records. The same number of hits as the query without a slash (shown here). It's still bad, very bad, of course, but illustrates my point that I cannot prove by searching for the slash alone, as it is not accepted by the software.

Click here to see the whole screen shot!


 A correct query that retains the relationship between the words of the subject heading and subheading by putting them between quotes as I have entered it, produces 5 records, indeed all of them relevant. The slash and the surrounding space do not matter when the term is entered manually, and the software is not case sensitive.

Click here to see the whole screen shot!


Such senseless programming and lack of any testing of an important function that could help to increase the precision of a subject search may be caused by focusing attention to programming the "sales module" of LookSmart which urges you to buy, sell, shop for this and that, whatever was your query term, in this case "brain". But that also makes LookSmart LookDumb. Not even the worst salesman would be so dumb  to put the query words straight into a series of scripts that urges you to buy, sell, and shop <your terms come here>.

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