Feature

Starting 2022 with a new feature: full-text search for the Front Matter blog

Fresh into 2022, the Front Matter blog today is launching an important new feature: full-text search of all blog posts. An example query would be for reference manager.

As the Front Matter blog has a lot of posts about reference managers, a tag would also have worked in this particular case, but tags are much less flexible, and become overwhelming when used too frequently.

The reason that tags have historically been used heavily in blogging platforms is technical, not that they provide the best user interface to find blog content. Relational databases such as MySQL that power blogging platforms  (including Front Matter) are not good at full-text search, and a separate tool is needed. Solr and Elasticsearch are two widely used tools to provide full-text search. They are not trivial to set up thus not used very often for full-text search of blogs. A popular alternative is a hosted search platform such as Algolia.

The full-text search Front Matter is launching today is built using Typesense, open source software that is much easier to set up and maintain than Elasticsearch, and with a pricing model that is a better fit for Front Matter than Algolia – either self-hosted or in this case hosted by Typesense.org with a fee based on size and number of nodes in the cluster, not the number of requests as with Algolia.

The new search functionality includes a small refactoring of pagination and filtering by tags that now are all powered by Typesense, and are linked to the URL in the browser to make it easy to share search results, e.g. https://blog.front-matter.io/?query=reference+manager&page=2. Tags are used for eight high-level categories of related content displayed on top of each page, but there are no plans to generate lots of additional tags for each blog post, as the full-text search obsoletes that need. Indexing in Typesense happens every time a blog post is published or updated, with negligible overhead and fully automated.

Front Matter is not the only place you can search for Front Matter blog posts. As all blog posts and core metadata are registered with a Crossref DOI, you can also search Crossref Metadata Search, for example https://search.crossref.org/?q=reference+manager+overview&from_ui=yes, or all the other places where you find indexed Crossref DOIs that includes Front Matter content.

As this is version 1.0 of Front Matter full-text search, we expect to make adjustments based on user feedback in the coming months, but the new feature is available as of today, so please start 2022 searching away. A good starting point would be a quick search and read on a mobile phone while on a commuter train, assuming you are not locked down in a home office.

The new search functionality is part of the bloggable open source library that powers this blog and is available via GitHub.

Update Jan 4, 2022: Added link to source code.

Copyright © 2022 Martin Fenner. Distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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