A synonym by definition is any word that has the same or nearly the same meaning as another in the same language (e.g. lawyer, attorney, solicitor). When compiled together in a database or system of these terms, the result is a thesaurus.

Funnelback supports user-defined synonyms that are configured in a similar manner to best bets.

Funnelback uses the defined synonyms to expand or modify the user’s query terms behind the scenes. This allows an administrator to use synonyms for additional query modification beyond the thesaurus-like definition of a synonym.

When to use synonyms

Synonyms in Funnelback can be used to:

  • expand a term into a set of equivalent terms. E.g. when somebody includes the word lawyer somewhere in a query also search for attorney or solicitor.

  • expand acronyms. E.g. if query includes the term moj also search for ministry of justice

  • map user language to internal language, or non-technical language to the equivalent technical terms. Users often don’t know the exact technical words to use and this can prevent them from finding what they are looking for. E.g. map bird flu to H1N1.

  • auto-correct known misspellings. E.g. if a query includes the word qinwa automatically replace this with quinoa. Funnelback does include a spelling suggestion system, but synonyms can enhance the user experience by fixing a misspelling without a user needing to click on an extra did you mean link.

  • Use with care. This mechanism is silent, the user may receive little or no notification that their query has been modified, which could be very confusing if used inappropriately.

  • The use of synonyms can be switched off by using the synonyms=off CGI parameter when making a request to search, or by setting -synonyms=off as a query processor option.

  • The content of the synonyms.cfg file must be in UTF-8 encoding. Use of accented letters, Greek, Cyrillic, Chinese etc. in other character sets will either cause missed matches or garbled queries.

Synonyms vs query blending

Funnelback also has a similar feature called query blending that can automatically apply synonyms and a number of other blending sources to broaden the query. However, it has some limitations and the algorithm can choose to auto-disable query blending for a query if it decides that the query is too complex.

  • Use query blending: if you want synonyms and other things like spelling suggestions to be automatically applied and the results blended into a single result set, and you don’t mind it not running sometimes.

  • Use synonyms if you always want to have the synonym expansions applied.

  • Synonyms are always applied to a running query

  • Query blending is applied sometimes.

  • You can’t use synonyms and query blending at the same time.

See also