As the site grew rapidly in its early days, the search function was unfortunately one of the most visible victims of the increasing demand on Etsy's infrastructure. After some changes in leadership and new hardware and software, Etsy has been tweaking its search function continuously to add new features. Here's a timeline of how Etsy's search function has changed over the years.
June, 2005 - The Beginning! Etsy goes online with a few sellers and a few items and a simple one-box, one-button search function. Results are listed by most recent first - a default setting that remains to this day - and users have the option to sort results by date, price, quantity, number of views and item title. Categories can also be searched.
July, 2005 - Advanced Search is introduced. Users can search title only, description only, or both. Special search fields are added to search by material, tag, seller, item number and price range.
October, 2005 - Geolocater, a way to search for shops by location is added.
November, 2006 - Etsy v.2 - In a major overhaul of the site, Etsy eliminates a separate advanced search function. Some of the advanced search fields are moved to a drop-down menu in the main search function and others are eliminated. Search types include: items: tags, titles; items: tags, titles, descriptions; sellers: usernames; items: materials; and materials. Eliminated are title-only, description-only, item number and price range searches. Search results can be sorted by price and date. Quantities are removed from search results. Views are included, but are no longer a sort option. Notably, it is no longer possible to search within categories.
October, 2007 - Etsy adds some search tips to the main search page in response to user confusion about search results
December, 2007 - Some advanced operators are refined, including phrase matching for tags/titles searching and the NOT operator used to exclude terms
January, 2008 - Etsy reinstates search capability within categories. An Etsy search plug-in for web browsers is introduced.
February, 2008 - The price-range filter returns as an advanced function. Search capability is added to the color picker feature.
May, 2008 - A major change is made to the search function when Etsy splits items into three major sections: Handmade Items, Vintage and Supplies. Description search functionality is removed from vintage and supplies sections.
September, 2008 - Under the direction of new CTO Chad Dickerson, Etsy adds new hardware to handle search traffic and makes some elemental changes to reduce the search load. Some simple searches are redirected to categories. A limit is placed on the number of search terms, and items are now added to the search and category databases in batches rather than in "real" time. The minus sign is added as an alternative for NOT.
November, 2008 - New Etsy CEO Maria Thomas announces that improving the search function is an "immediate and urgent project," and informs the Etsy community that the long standing most-recent-first search results will be replaced in 2009 by search results that are ranked by relevance.
January, 2009 - Etsy begins using Solr, an open source search engine platform, in preparation for future development.
April, 2009 - Etsy brings back an Advanced Search function. A link is placed to the right of the Search button.
The dropdown menu is shortened to include Handmade, Vintage, Supplies and Sellers, with an option to search all items at once
May, 2009 - A "Ships To" filter option is added to find items that will ship to a specific country. Etsy rolls out the option to sort results by relevancy.
July, 2009 - Etsy adds related search suggestion links to search results.
September, 2009 - Etsy adds category filters to search results, similar to eBay's category filters.
January 2010 - The Search Suggestions links are moved from the top to the bottom of the results page and now also appear as dropdown suggestions in the search box.
March, 2010 - As part of a site-wide move to a wider format, Etsy simplifies the Search Box to emphasize the dropdown menu.
Search results are formatted for the wider site and include 40 items per page.
The Advanced Search link is removed from the front page and search results page, but the page remains active.
November, 2010 - A "Local Items" filter is added to the search results based on the user's saved location and the location indicated by sellers in their shop profiles.
December, 2010 - Etsy capital investor Fred Wilson remarks in an Etsy forum that "...we've hired a ton of engineers this year and search is one area we are investing heavily in. Fixing search is not a simple task. But the company is committed to it and spending heavily on it."
In a follow up, Etsy founder and CEO writes:
We have spent an enormous amount of time on search this year. The entire infrastructure was rewritten, giving us the framework we need to make our next big round of improvements.
We've made speed improvements, drastically reduced the # of servers required to run search, launched location search etc. etc.
There will be bigger changes next year, starting with the listing process. We need better data when items are listed, in order to make a lot of the improvements in search.
We've also spent a lot of time this year building our our personalization infrastructure. The default for sorting search results needs to be personalized relevance, not the rather brutish "most recent" that we have now. This is one the most important changes we need to make.
Keep in mind that search is a tool for buyers to find items they like. We need to do our best job targeting items to people, based on what we know about the people.