Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Indexes and indexing

I think Google has permanently spoiled me. How easy it is to type just a few words into its search screen and get -- along with some bad guesses, frequently -- the information I'm seeking. Even the wrong answers can be amusing, and my usual searches of place names or short biographies generally work.

So I forget that indexing is an art as well as a technique. Genealogists have known this for years, of course, and even when they can digitize records they prefer adding human indexers to proof read and give sanity checks to the data. Libraries were pioneers in machine-readable indexes for their card catalogs. I seem to remember that it was Los Angeles County library which issued an index of all of its periodical holdings, except that they forgot to specify that "Los Angeles" (and the other "Los" and "Las" names) were part of the name, and not simply the definite article in Spanish. Consequently anybody wanting, say, the Los Angeles Times had to look under A, for an entry reading "Angeles Times, Los". Kind of embarrassing for them.

So after all these years I expect any index I use to be useful. Imagine my surprise when I opened the big user's guide for my new Android phone (you can get this guide, free, by calling the number they give online). Leafing through the index I didn't find much that was useful until I came to "to" and found entries like this, which occupy most of the index:

To accept an invitation to chat
To access your voice mail from your wireless device
To add a bookmark shortcut to the Home screen
To add a contact to your favorites

The Spanish language half of the guide perpetuates this silliness, except you have to look for "para".

If I didn't like this phone so much, I'd be upset!


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