U3A Oversights

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Group searching: clarification

Early feedback about Oversights included questions about why some group names didn't appear in the tag cloud, and why search results didn't handle synonyms, or prduce summaries of information on group pages. So it was obviously necessary to clarify how the group search is implemented, and what it can and can't do. Firstly, the items in the tag cloud are just those which occur most frequently in group names, with the relative frequencies indicated by the font-size. But any other word or phrase can be found by entering it in the search box and pressing return. So less frequent terms like botany, cryptic crosswords, lacemaking and skittles will all find a list of relevant groups.

The process of creating a group name index and a tag cloud has been automated so that it can be run periodically to stay in line with the main site content. Group names are extracted from the individual site records and unimportant variations are removed: french 1 and french 2 are treated as the same topic, though french beginners and french improvers are counted separately. Variants of the same word, e.g. (walk, walks, walking, walkers) are treated as equivalent, but there has been no attempt to group together related but different words, like film and cinema. Computer programs can be made to do the first sort of association fairly easily, whereas the second would require much more human input, or sophisticated artificial intelligence.

So: researchers looking for groups within an inclusive topic may need to run several individual searches, just as they might if using a search engine. And digesting the content of group pages found via the search would definitely be the responsibility of whoever needed the information! But filtering lists of groups (and events) based on U3As' geographical positions was an excellent idea which has now been implemented.