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Incremental search is more responsive and requires less interaction from the user, but are there cases where using it is the wrong choice? I'm specifically referring to web applications.

  • Do you mean predictive search? – user43251 Jun 2 '14 at 12:44
  • @user43251 yes, more accurately results will be matched to the database and displayed as you type without the need to hit a "search button" – Yali G Jun 2 '14 at 13:49
  • I think in this context when there is an existing database it is a helpful feature, especially if people don't know the exact name of things. I guess there could be performance issues, or you may not want to give users the impression that there are 'limited' queries but on the whole I think it is helpful in this context. – user43251 Jun 2 '14 at 14:00
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There's two situations which I can imagine:

  • Bad Performance: If it takes too long, or takes up too much processor power (making the UI unresponsive), don't do it.

  • Complex queries: Incremental Search is nice if you have a single search field. But if your user needs complex queries (such as a date range, consisting of two dates, which no single search field handles well), then it can't be incremental.

  • Implementation depends on your system. One can easily achieve great performance with very little processing power these days. As for date range and other more complex queries, Groupon does just as you mention and has been doing quite well. – Francis Pelland Jun 2 '14 at 15:22
  • I'm not using Groupon, so I might be ignorant: When I type "concert june 15th 2014 - june 30th 2014" into their web site search field, they respond with "Our deal searchers couldn't find any nearby "concert june 15th 2014 - june 30th 2014" deals at the moment. They feel bad, so they found you 551 other deals to make up for it." How does it work? – virtualnobi Jun 3 '14 at 7:14
  • If you want to build an input that can understand that type of natural spelling, it would certainly be possible and easy to do. However that is far more complicated for users. Groupon employs a slider to choose dates with an input where you can contextually type what you want, which includes the predictive search. – Francis Pelland Jun 3 '14 at 15:19
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Predictive search is often good. It saves the user from having to type in their full query and allows them to perhaps choose something that may be related to what they are looking for and may not be exactly what they are looking for.

The times that predictive search is bad is often when doing lookups on something that should be regarded as "safe". In some products, looking up user names can sometimes be bad if you do a predictive search. But in other cases, like when you want to tag a friend on a picture it is a very good thing.

Without knowing the specific implementation you are looking to do, it is difficult to provide with a full answer. In many cases and if not most, I would suggest that sort of implementation. I don't fully agree with virtualnobi in regards to terrible performance. I've built hundreds of these types of "type ahead" or "predictive search" inputs and all of them had terrific performance. This is more a question of implementation however, including how you cache, what DBs you use and how you structure your data (indexes, keys, search type, etc).

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