Browse vs Search

In 2004 I noticed an interesting philosophical difference between two file sharing technologies, namely BitTorrent and peer-to-peer. Peer-to-peer technology is based on searching. You submit keywords and any computer connected to special hubs returns query results and you decide which file to download in return. Although BitTorrent offers a similar search feature, it offers more by categorizing the files and presents an alternative to find information, which is known as browsing. I frequently use both techniques, but I’m especially inclined to browse because historically I benefited from it most.

Below I will list my personal observations to compare these two fundamental ways of getting what you want.

  • Browse -> Extract best from available
  • Search -> Finding the best without any pathway but faster than browse if you know what you want
  • Search is as powerful as searcher, browse is easier. So browse is for beginners, search is for masters
  • You are almost always happy at the end when browsing; but if you search, you often end up frustrated
  • In real life, if you insist on searching, you may end up with nothing
  • Searching is more like induction, browsing on the other hand resembles deduction. When you search, you build up information; when you browse you gain information from an already established structure
  • In books, table of contents are for browsing, indexes are for searching. Likewise a reference handbook is used in a search based approach, whereas textbooks are more browse-oriented.
  • In optimization, search is an effort to find a global extremum; but once you have narrowed down the possibilities, to have the exact location faster, a local search (which is analogically equivalent to browsing) should be performed. So unlike the examples above this example requires you to use search before browse.
  • While browsing you can encounter things that you haven’t even thought of , but search is limited by what you want

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