Earlier today in the ACEDS/eDiscovery Assistant #caseoftheweek broadcast, I discussed the case O’Donnell/Salvatori Inc. v. Microsoft Corp. (which I covered yesterday here) and some great takeaways and lessons learned from that case. But I also discussed a takeaway from one of the cases referenced in this case which included an egregious example of a “wild” wildcard search term, and I discussed a site you can use for testing wildcard search terms. Here is the case and that site.
The case was BancPass, Inc. v. Highway Toll Admin., LLC, No. A-14-CV-1062-SS (W.D. Tex. July 26, 2016), which is a case I covered in my blogging a few years ago. This was a case that was ruled on by Andrew Austin (no relation – at least not that I know of), who is a Magistrate Judge in Texas. Part of the dispute in the case had to do with the plaintiff’s smartphone app and one of the things notable about this case is that the ruling included the search terms agreed to by the parties. Two of those terms were as follows:
- Smartphone /10 app!
- Phone! /10 app!
The “!” symbol is the wildcard character in this case and the “/10” means “within 10 words of”. Clearly, it looked like the parties chose to add a wildcard to “app” to search for “app”, “apps”, “application” or “applications”. Makes sense, right?
Not when you realize how many words there are in the English language that start with “app”. There are actually 306 words in the English language that start with “app”. Apparently, it appears the application of the wildcard was appealing when it wasn’t approximate or even appropriate, it was appalling. See what I did there? 😉
Needless to say, it’s no wonder they wound up with a lot of non-responsive documents for those searches! That’s why testing wildcard search terms is really important!
The site I referenced is morewords.com where you can look up a lot of things related to words. It’s a site designed for Scrabble and Words with Friends players, but it also gives you the ability to look for words that start with, or end with a character string, like “app”. That makes it a great resource for testing potential wildcard searches by seeing the words that could be retrieved. To search for words that begin with “app”, here is the link:
Want to test another wildcard term? Simply substitute that term for “app” in the link and you’ll see how many words begin with that character string. Sometimes, you’ll realize that your search is retrieving a lot more than you expected. Or maybe less than you expected – for example, if you’re looking for words that start with “receive”, you’ll miss “receiving” because it drops the “e”.
In the case above, they would have been better suited to search for (app OR apps OR application OR applications) if they wanted references to phone or smartphone apps. This example illustrates the importance for testing wildcard search terms (or any terms, for that matter) before you agree to them. Doing so here would have easily identified this search as considerably overbroad.
I’ve touched on this topic in my blogging in previous years, but hadn’t done so on eDiscovery Today, so this referenced case gives me an opportunity to revisit it!
So, what do you think? What method do you use for testing wildcard search terms? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant, an Affinity partner of eDiscovery Today.
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