In 2004, I thought I was pretty smart when my friends would be struggling to remember the name of a song they remembered a fragment of a lyric to – I would slide on the nearest 20 pound computer monitor, type in that fragment surrounded by quotation marks in Google search, add “song lyrics” after that, and be able to tell them exactly what they were thinking of.
Now, 10 years later, I am astounded that search results are able to accurately tell me what song I’m thinking of. Let me explain why.
One of my esteemed colleagues started humming a tune here at the office. All of us within earshot knew what it was but couldn’t put our finger on it. So, on a whim, I typed in what what he was humming, and searched for the following phrase: doo doo dooo doo doo doooo do.
I didn’t use boolean search modifiers, didn’t specify that I was looking for a song or a even a lyric, and didn’t provide any additional information regarding my search request besides some relatively meaningless ‘doo’s (even those are out of synch with the syncopation of the song I was thinking of.)
Do you know what song we were trying to think of?
The top two search results that were presented were YouTube videos, clearly the presence of multiple ‘doo doo do’s signifiy that, at least in the United States, the search in question regards a song or piece of music. Then, the third search result (from Yahoo! answers, no less) hits the nail on the head. “Maybe you’re talking about semi charmed life by third eye blind.” Why yes, Yahoo Answers via Google meta data retrieval. That IS the song we were searching for.
Query by Humming
It turns out there are a few services, including Midomi which has collected about one million tracks from it’s user base, and apps like Soundhoud that you can utilize to rid yourself of that nagging tune or piece of information that you just can’t forget until you know what it is. These programs use a music retrieval system called Query by humming – which is a rather fascinating bit of technology that maps some rather complicated algorithms in order to deliver the correct result.
For other “tip of the tongue” related search, Reddit has subreddit (aptly named /tipofmytongue/ ) that is devoted to things that you can’t quite remember the name of. When search engines fail you, you can outsource your search results to an avid human audience that can usually provide an answer within a few minutes. It not only includes queries regarding spelled out song syllables, but also requests for images, videos, and other media types. Thinking of word you can’t quite put your finger on? This handy little word search engine (also called tip of my tongue) may be able to help you by combining prefixes, suffixes, synonyms and other combinations to give you just the right word.
Do you know of any cool tools for unusual searches to add to this list? Please share in our comments!
Query by Humming: Musical Information Retrieval in an Audio Database by A. Ghias, J. Logan, D. Chamberlain, and B. Smith
Boolean Search – webopedia
Tip of My Tongue Finds the Word You’re Looking For – Lifehacker.com
Query by humming – Wikipedia