Searching Databases with the 5 Senses: Beyond Searching with Words

The intellectual property search field really opened my eyes to how database searching isn’t just limited to keyword searches.  Sometimes, you need to go beyond searching only with words…you can search by drawing chemical structures to find patents mentioning similar compounds, or you can find similar designs or logos through a reverse image search.  If searching with visual elements is possible, then is there also technology that allows people to search through a database using other physical senses? Here are a few examples of tools allowing users to search by visual, auditory, tactile, taste, and scent criteria:

  • Sight – This is the easy one…reverse image searching is very common, especially using Google Images.  For Google, it’s as simple as uploading a photo or entering a URL for an image to find a list of matching or similar images.  The Pinterest Visual Search Tool has the added interesting feature of allowing you to zoom in and only search for a specific part of an image. Check out this video and presentation When image, colour and texture is content: the potential of visual search for an interesting case study of making 3 million designs from the

    UK Board of Trade Design Register visually searchable.

     

    pin
    Visual search tool on Pinterest.

  • Hearing – Technology to search by sound also seems to be relatively established, with apps like “Soundhound (previously Midomi), Doreso and others […] using a simple algorithm to match an acoustic fingerprint to a song in a library.”  Of course, Google also has its own sound search app.
  • Touch – For tactile search to exist, first we would need computer screens that allow users to “feel” specific textures and sensations.  Haptic engineering (according to Discover magazine) “focuses on applying tactile stimulation to our interactions with computers”, and this engineering field may lead to a future where we can search for and share textures and sensations with each other online.  I was only able to find one example of actual tactile search technology in a fascinating paper describing Twech: A Mobile Platform to Search and Share Visuo-tactile Experiences.
  • Taste/Smell – I wish Google Nose really existed, but unfortunately that was just a brilliant April Fool’s joke.  Searching by actual taste and smell doesn’t seem to be a realistic technology yet, but some databases do exist where users can search for the chemical components behind flavors and scents.  For example, BitterDB allows users to search “over 550 compounds that were reported to taste bitter to humans.”  You can also search for perfumes by “notes”, like citrus smells, flowers, woods, mosses, and more.

The technology is already available for image and sound-based searching, and we may soon be able to share and search tactile sensations over mobile devices.  I still look forward to the day when I can search for anything tasting like banana pancakes through Google…I’m sure that day is closer than we expect.

Deciphering Buzzwords and Acronyms

 

question-mark-note-man-person-460868 (2)Today I came across an article on DigitalGov describing the hot new IT buzzwords for 2017, and reading it, I felt equal parts impressed and irritated.  It’s fantastic that technology is moving fast enough that we have to constantly innovate with language to describe the newest process or concept that’s taking the IT world by storm. On the other hand, overuse of buzzwords can make discussions between professionals turn into incomprehensible gibberish for anyone not fully immersed in the field.  This can hamper collaboration across different fields, if we literally can’t understand what the other person is saying. I know I’m not the only person irritated by buzzwords, since buzzword bingo and the Business Buzzword Generator exist.

And don’t even get me started on acronyms…if you’ve worked with any government organization, in academia, or in pretty much any professional field, you’re probably drowning in a SEA of acronyms. Yes, acronyms are definitely needed (who wants to constantly repeat “United States Patent and Trademark Office,” instead of USPTO?), but that doesn’t mean they don’t drive me crazy.

So how can we go about deciphering buzzwords and acronyms?  Google is a good place to start for buzzwords, and Wikipedia offers a handy article listing education, business, science/technology, political, and general conversation buzzwords.  For the library sciences field in particular, many academic LibGuides (see DTS, Cornell, Lesley) offer glossaries of common library and research terms. A great article by John Kupersmith describes best practices for translating research/library terminology for patrons, to improve service and reduce miscommunication.

For acronyms, I usually try a quick search of Acronym Finder or Free Dictionary.  A search of USPTO, for instance, on either site will immediately identify “United States Patent and Trademark Office” as the most likely meaning.  Both sites also list possible alternate definitions for less unique acronyms (like SEA, which has 114 possible meanings listed on Acronym Finder).  If you’re specifically looking for definitions of government acronyms, you also might want to try the GovSpeak Libguide from UC San Diego.

Acronyms and buzzwords are both necessary evils, since we need words for new ideas and shorthand for impossibly long agency names.  That doesn’t mean we should let buzzwords and acronyms hold us back, though…a quick online search will usually find a definition for even the most bizarre jargon.