In Tuesday’s post, I described a new feature of Accordance 8.4 as offering “help for the Google generation.” Now, if you enter a string of words and hit return, Accordance will do as it always has and assume you want an exact phrase, but if the exact phrase is not found, Accordance will offer to perform an AND or OR search for the words entered.

One user, however, commented that he doesn’t think we went far enough:

I think its right to cater for the Google generation, because that’s what we are and that’s what we expect. It’s not about right and wrong and better and worse, its about what we’re used to.

Now the trouble is, this Accordance hack is not the right way to go about it. If I search for Son of Adam, Accordance still gives me Lk 3:38, but the Google generation expect to get Ge 4:25 and 5:3 as well, unless it is in double quotes.

I think you need to actually provide two full blown different parsing regimes, switchable in preferences—the Google one, and the one you like. Personally I want the Google one, because I do so many Google searches, this is just how I think now.

This user is right that if you enter a phrase that is actually found, like son of Adam, Accordance simply finds the phrase and does not offer an easy option to switch to a broader AND or OR search. I’m open to the possibility that we could take our “help for the Google generation” a little further, but we certainly have no plans to offer a choice of search syntaxes or of ditching our existing syntax in favor of Google’s. Here’s why:

First, we disagree with the premise that there is no “right and wrong” or “better and worse” when it comes to interface design. If “what we’re used to” is the sole determiner of what is best, then no one would be switching to the Mac and forcing themselves to adjust to a new user interface. Google’s ubiquitousness does not mean that its syntax is best for every kind of search. When you’re searching millions of web pages looking for anything relevant, Google’s tendency to default to a broad search helps to ensure that you’ll find something useful. Since it’s rare that any of us will click past the first or second page of results, it doesn’t really matter to us that Google’s broad searches return thousands of web pages. If you want to narrow your search results, Google requires that you do something extra, such as enclosing a phrase in quotes.

When searching the text of the Bible, defaulting to a broad search will often return too many false positives, leaving you to wade through lots of extraneous hits to find the results you’re looking for. Accordance therefore assumes you want a narrow search and requires you to do something extra (like entering search commands and symbols) to broaden the search.

We recognize that using a different search syntax can get confusing, but frankly, if you’re young enough to identify yourself as part of the Google generation, you’re too young to be set in your ways! At 40, I’m becoming more and more of an “old dog” who struggles to learn “new tricks,” but I still manage to use both Accordance and Google with little if any confusion. If I can learn to speak two search languages and keep track of which is right for the program I happen to be using, anyone can.

Far from being a “hack,” our new option to take a Google-style search and convert it to an AND or OR search is an elegant solution which accomplishes two very important goals. First, it gives you a quick way to get to the search you want without having to figure out how to fix it. And second, it shows you the Accordance syntax for performing an AND or OR search, thereby training you to use that syntax in the future.

Now, let’s examine this user’s example search for son of Adam. Because this phrase is found in Luke 3:38, Accordance delivers the narrow result of the exact phrase as it was typed. For someone who hasn’t cut their teeth on Google, getting a result which matches what I entered is the intuitive behavior. If I find it surprising that the phrase “son of Adam” does not appear in Genesis, I can simply double-click the word “of” to select it, and then replace it with the AND command (which I usually insert using the keyboard shortcut shift-command-A). I could also simply delete the word “of” and perform a search for son Adam. After all, if you expect the “of” to be ignored as it is in Google, why bother entering it? If you leave it out, Accordance will give you the option to convert to an AND search. That AND search will then return the two verses in Genesis which include both “Adam” and “son.”

For the die-hard googlers out there, I hope this helps to explain our rationale a bit. We want to make the transition to using Accordance as easy as possible, and when you enter a Google-style search out of habit, we want to provide an easy way to correct the mistake. But the syntax we use in Accordance is not just the one we “like” the best. Rather, it’s the one we believe is best—at least where searching the Bible is concerned.