The Noisy Channel


Gmail Search Autocomplete

April 2nd, 2009 · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

Google just announced a new experimental feature through Gmail Labs that auto-completes searches in Gmail application based on your contacts and its operator syntax:

Gmail Search Autocomplete

It’s a nice feature, and it does a lot to mitigate the lack of navigational functionality in the Gmail interface. Unfortunately, it requires using the current Gmail interface, which is not comparible with the CustomizeGoogle Firefox extension.

One thing I’ve never understood is that Gmail search engine doesn’t offer spelling correction. That seems like an odd omission from the company that popularized “did you mean?”. Does anyone know why this feature is unavailable in an application where it would be extremely useful?

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jason Adams // Apr 2, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    You can spell check in Gmail, it’s in the top right corner of the message compose box. Not the same as spell-checking while you type, but also doesn’t annoy you with red underlines..

  • 2 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 2, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. I don’t mean spelling correction of the email, but rather of queries in the Gmail search engine. If I misspell a term in the search box, I get no results. I’ll try to clarify that in the post.

  • 3 Panos Ipeirotis // Apr 2, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    I was wondering about *exactly* the same thing today!

    Offering the web-version of the “did you mean” seems trivial. However, it does not sound too useful to suggest the “correct” spelling if you do not have any emails that will match the correct suggestions. It may actually cause more frustration due to “false positives” (suggestion that return 0 results)

    I assume that they would like to have a customized version of the feature for each user, personalized for each user’s archive. For that, they will need to keep some “local” statistics about each user’s character and word n-grams to get this feature to be functioning as on the web. However, I assume that most users will not have email archives big enough to generate reliable n-gram statistics.

    So while such a feature would be useful for the occasional typo, it may not be good for suggesting the alternative spellings that will lead you to actually find emails in your own archive.

    Or at least this is the explanation that I came up with…

  • 4 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 3, 2009 at 12:34 am

    Well, they could at least address the case where a typo returns no results, but a correction would return results. I think this is a common enough scenario to be useful. They could also return the union of misspelled words and likely corrections, or offer the latter as “did you mean” suggestions.

    Personalized dictionaries would be awesome, but perhaps that is more load than their servers can bear. But I’d settle for suggestions based on global statistics. There’s only upside here.

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