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[IPS News] 4.3: Scaleable search and interface improvements

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Search. Let's be honest, it's not the most exciting feature in the world. You ask to find things, and it shows you what it found.

Simple, right?

It's a lot more complex than that. After numerous tests, a few surveys and many discussions with customers, we've decided that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to search. Invision Community is used on many diverse communities and each has its own needs.

The bigger the community, the more of a headache search can be when you start hitting frustrating technical limitations of the database.

Happily, we've addressed all of these issues with Invision Community 4.3 and added a few extra treats.

Searchable Products and Pages
Products in the Store and custom Pages will now show in search results.

Products in search results.png

Store product in search results

More Customisable Search Experience
One of the most difficult challenges with search is anticipating the scope of the search. If, for example, you're looking for something you know you've seen before, you want the search to be narrow - matching only the exact terms you provide, probably only matching against the title, in the specific area you know where the content is located. If however, you're just doing a general search about a particular subject, you want the search to be wide - matching any of the terms you enter, anywhere in the community, in both titles and content.

For a while, Invision Community has had the option to choose which areas to search, defaulting to the area of the community you're in (for example, if you're in a forum, only that forum will be searched by default). We also provide a number of suggestions on the search result form (in the form of "Didn't find what you were looking for? Try searching for..." followed by a number of options) which adjust the scope of the search.

In Invision Community 4.3, we have a new interface for the quick search feature which makes some of these options more visible so you're more likely to find what you're looking for on the first search.

New Search UI.png

New Search UI

Along these lines we have also:

  • Changed the default "Search In" selection to "Everywhere", regardless of where the user is.
  • Added a new setting which controls whether the "Any words" or "All words" option is checked by default.
  • Added a new setting which allows you to adjust how much of a boost results receive for a match in the title, versus the content body, when searching both content titles and body.

You can set default and/or operator.

New Search Settings.png

New Search Settings

Elasticsearch
In Invision Community 4.3 we are adding native support for Elasticsearch, a third party search engine which offers a number of benefits over searching your MySQL database:

  • Elasticsearch, being designed and indexing data in a way optimised for search rather than data storage, is generally able to match and sort by relevancy with better accuracy than MySQL.
  • Elasticsearch is generally faster. One user performing a search doesn't slow down other users trying to read and make posts at the same time (when searching MySQL, the data has to be "locked" from changes when the search is being performed). It scales very well with very large datasets, and runs very easily on multiple servers.
  • Elasticsearch understands language. If for example, you search for "community", it will also return results which contain the word "communities", understanding that these are the same. Supported languages are Arabic, Armenian, Basque, Brazilian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Dinnish, Drench, Galician, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Persian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Sorani, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Thai.
  • Elasticsearch supports custom functions on the scoring algorithm. In our initial implementation this has allowed us to add settings to allow you to control the time decay (allowing newer results to show higher) and author boost (allowing content posted by the user to optionally show higher in results).
  • Unlike with MySQL, there is no minimum query length and a very small list of stop words.

Elasticsearch Settings.png

Elasticsearch Settings

When enabled, both searches and activity streams will be retrieved from Elasticsearch. The core_search_index database table in MySQL will no longer be populated, so you will not have to store the data twice.

To use Elasticsearch, you can either install it yourself on your own server, or use any of the many excellent hosted Elasticsearch options. The minimum required Elasticsearch version is 5.5.

REST API
Developers and those looking to integrate Invision Community features into their own sites will be pleased to learn that we've extended the REST API to accommodate searching. 

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