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Saturday, February 4, 2012

The ONEAR Mystery

One of the things I still don't understand about the search syntax on Lexis Advance is: Why include the ONEAR/n Connector? Wait . . . You don't know about the ONEAR Connector?! Well, I'm not surprised, because no else seems to know about it either (including most employees of LexisNexis)!

First, of all, every person I've mentioned this Connector to has reacted the same way: "ONEAR? What's that mean? That's a dumb name!"

Second, it's actually a redundant Connector. According to the list on the Connectors tab of the Search Tips form page in Lexis Advance, the ONEAR connector (which is the last Connector listed) should be used when you want to "Include words where the first word precedes the second by not more than 'n' words". Hmm . . . Why does that sound familiar? . . . Oh, yeah. Because the fifth Connector listed is the PRE/n Connector, and its stated function is to "Include words where the first word precedes the second by not more than 'n' words"!

Take your time. Go ahead and read those two descriptions again. I'll wait. Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. They are the exact same description!

So here's my question: Why add ONEAR, a Connector that was not included in the Beta version and is not available through lexis.com, when you're going back and adding PRE/n, a Connector that lexis.com users are already comfortable with and that does the exact same thing?!

Attempting to Solve the Mystery

Back in June 2011, when I was preparing an initial critique of what was then called Lexis Advance for Law Schools BETA, I spent some time investigating the LexisNexis Marketing assertion that they had "moved to the new web standard set of Boolean connectors". Considering no other legal search engine relied upon the NEAR Connector (which is functionally identical to the trusty, old W/n Connector), I sought to identify where this new Connector had come from.

My research at that time led me to a company called Exalead. Exalead is "a global software provider in the enterprise and Web search markets, and the maker of . . . the industry's top platform for Search-Based Applications (SBAs)." A description of Exalead's main platform sounds remarkably similar to the "innovations" of Lexis Advance, and they utilize a small set of simple Connectors, including the NEAR Connector. But, as far as I can tell, they do not use the ONEAR Connector.

Now, it appears the solution might be much simpler than that. LexisNexis may be using an SBA as part of Lexis Advance, but they also may just be utilizing a relatively new programming language called FAST Query Language (or FQL). Developed for Microsoft FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint, "FQL is a query language providing advanced query capabilities against textual content". FQL is relatively simple to use, allows dynamic manipulation of content, and, most importantly (for my investigation), it utilizes the ONEAR Connector.

Mystery solved. Or is it? Considering all that FQL apparently can do, if LexisNexis is using it for the development of Lexis Advance, why can't we have the capitalization and pluralization commands that lexis.com allows? I guess that's the real mystery.

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