What were they thinking? Unraveling the mysteries of SharePoint Search: Created By and Last Modified By

Here’s an update on my ongoing mission to figure out the user interface for MOSS 2007 search.  Along with one of my clients, we’ve been working with a very diligent support tech at Microsoft who is helping us try to figure out whether a confusing interface in MOSS 2007 search is a case where the implementation team at Microsoft failed to implement a design requirement or whether the designers really intended to make it impossible to find a document if all you know is the name of the last person who probably (or actually) modified it.  The question is: should you be able to search for a document if you know who wrote it or who last updated it?

On my web site, I’ve posted a document that summarizes some of the key search tips and tricks I’ve learned as I’ve deployed multiple MOSS 2007 solutions (http://www.susanhanley.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/searchsyntax.pdf).   One of the things I note in this document is that we seem to have found a “bug” in the Advanced Search drop down properties – the searches for Created By and Last Modified By never return values.  Initially, even the Microsoft search team thought this was a bug, but now, it turns out that there may be something more interesting going on.


return values, but only if your corpus of content includes SPS 2003 content.  They will not return MOSS 2007 content, but will return content from your SPS 2003 databases.  Much thanks goes to Colin Hughes-Jones at Microsoft who cleverly tested these searches on internal Microsoft content and discovered that when the content being searched included SPS 2003 content, he actually got results.  The "CreatedBy" managed property maps to the following crawled properties: ows_created_x0020_by(text) and the "ModifiedBy" managed property maps to ows_modified_x0020_by(text) and ows_modified_by(Text).  We think that both of these fields are only found in SharePoint 2003 content. 

Turns out, these two searches

One of the reasons this is particularly confusing is that there appears to be no documentation informing users that the Created By and Last Modified By fields don’t work on MOSS 2007 content.  The user interface is not clear in this regard since there is nothing on the Advanced Search page that would tell a user that these two fields only work on SPS 2003 content, if that the intention.  Since the Author property search does work on MOSS 2007 content, the question outstanding is whether or not there is supposed to be a search for Last Modified By (or Editor) that will work for MOSS 2007 content?  Note that the Author property is mapped to mail:6(Text), Office:4(Text), and OWS_AuthorUserID(Text).So, that leaves me with a bunch of questions for Microsoft (that Colin has agreed to take to the search team):

  • Is it true that the Created By and Last Modified By fields map to properties that don’t exist in MOSS 2007 content?

  • Did the SharePoint design team intend to provide the ability to search for a document based on the name of the user who Last Modified the document?  If not, why not?  If so, then we have, in fact, found a bug – not where code is broken, necessarily, but one where the implementation doesn’t match the design requirement.

  • Did the design team intend for Created By and Last Modified By to only work for SPS2003 content?  If so, why is there nothing to indicate that these searches will not be useful for sites that are built exclusively in MOSS 2007?  In other words, why aren’t these two fields added as an option rather than part of the default properties in Advanced Search?  Since these two fields don’t work on MOSS 2007 content, we have been removing them from the drop down list in implementations so that users are not totally confused.  However, this is not really optimal because while we end up with the ability to search for the Author of a document, we’re left with no way to find a document based on the user responsible for the most recent update.

I’ll post the answers to these questions as soon as we get some feedback from Microsoft, but in the mean time, my recommendation to all MOSS 2007 solution developers is to ensure that your end users understand the limitations (and syntax) of SharePoint search (feel free to distribute copies of my search tips document) and if your corpus does not include SPS 2003 content, you should eliminate Created By and Last Modified By from the properties drop down in Advanced Search since they don’t work and will confuse your users.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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