Goodreads.com’s Goofy Search

Let’s talk about Goodreads’s search. Let’s talk about how frustrating it is. How batty it is.

Let’s use an illustrative example.

This example will illustrate how, for example, exact matches do may not appear first or even particularly near the top.

This example will illustrate, for example, how exact matches with high Goodreads user ratings can come after lower-rated books.

It will, for example, illustrate how highly rated, award winning books with lots of ratings that are exact matches often fall below books that neither won awards nor are exact matches.

It, for example, will illustrated how high-rated, recently publish books that have won prestigious awards, have lots of user ratings, and are exact matches might languish behind books that possess none of these qualities.

Search for “The Dead Hand”. As illustrated in the helpful screen cap you will see that the book which is an exact match, is rated higher than all books above it, was published more recently than (or as recently as) two-thirds of the books above it, and won the Pulitzer Prize, arguably the most prestigious literary prize in the United States.

To add to the bizarreness, if you omit Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand, the book I was looking for—Hoffman’s The Dead Hand—has more ratings than all the others combined. Couple this with the fact that two of the books above it have less than 100 ratings and it is clear that popularity (at least as measured by number of ratings) is not a significant factor.

So, really, what combination of factors is being used that causes six books, all lower-rated, all but one with much fewer ratings, only of which is exact match (and it’s in 6th!), most no more recent, and none of which won prizes on par with a Pulitzer to be placed above Hoffman’s book?

Why is Dead Hand by Harold Coyle, which is almost a point lower rated, has a tenth the ratings, is older, has fewer editions, won nothing, and not an exact match first?

Now, if you put quotation marks around the title, it does move Hoffman’s book up to fifth. However, Coyle’s Dead Hand—which, although fictional, is about ‘The Dead Hand’ and contains the exact string in its description—no longer appears on the first page of results. To add to this oddity, the seemingly more distantly titled Caught Dead Handed is in the number two slot.

What’s first in this scenario, you ask? A book with a rating just south of three and titled A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta.

In what universe do these results even verge on logical?

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