Contextual Search Coming to Teams
In Office 365 notification MC213822 (May 20), Microsoft announced:
“Teams users will be able to search within a specific chat or channel in both the desktop and web Teams clients. Currently, Teams users are unable to search within a particular chat or channel. With this new Contextual search experience, users will be able to search within a specific chat or a channel by pressing Ctrl+F (Windows) or Cmd+F (Mac).”
The roll-out of the new feature begins in late June and is scheduled to complete in mid-July.
Teams is not the only Microsoft application to struggle to return accurate search results: For many years, Outlook was famous for poor searching. In the case of Teams, people have been using the application for several years and the number of chats and channel conversations is much larger than it was in the past. In other words, it’s harder to find the proverbial needle in the Teams haystack unless you’re smart about how you perform searches.
Normal Teams Searches
Figure 1 shows the results of a “normal” Teams search, produced by inputting a query into the command box. Teams searches all the channels in the different teams the user belongs to along with their chats. If the search term doesn’t generate too many matching items, you’ll likely find what you’re looking for.
Most of the time you’ll work with the results listed under Messages. The People tab lists users and groups which match the search while the Files tab lists matching files found in SharePoint Online document libraries (including emails sent to channels). I have not found that the results returned under the Files tab are dependable and recommend that you should search from SharePoint instead.
Problems arise when a search generates many results. People often forget that they can apply filters to refine search results down to a manageable quantity. In Figure 2, the filter applied selects only items from the last week found in a specific channel.
Improving Search Queries
Filters help, but it’s even better to use precise search queries to find information, which isn’t always the case. It might be that Google and other search engines have made people sloppy in the way that they look for information. The fact is that search results improve with better queries. To show how, in Figure 3, we’ve taken the original search for “Microsoft 365” and refined it by saying that the items we want are those with the words “journey” and “pitfalls” within 10 words of each other.
To make the search even more precise, we could add a date range to restrict the results to items created in the current month:
“Microsoft 365” AND journey NEAR(10) pitfalls AND Sent = “this month”
Or limit the search to find items sent by a specific person:
“Office 365” AND from:”James Ryan”
Although undocumented, it seems like Teams search supports some (but not all) of the KQL (search) syntax for Exchange (email) items and used by Office 365 content searches. The uppercased words are search operators. Precise search queries work with the Teams mobile client too.
Limiting Teams Search to a Chat or Channel
Not everyone is going to input carefully-calculated queries, and even if you apply filters, you still might have too many items returned by a search to easily find the wanted item. In this context, limiting the search to a specific chat or channel focuses the search to a much smaller set of messages, and that’s what happens when you starting searching with CTRL/F.
CTRL/F launches a search within the currently selected channel or chat. In Figure 4, you can see that a channel is highlighted in the command box and that the results come exclusively from the selected channel. Because search processes a smaller target, the number of matches is much reduced, so it’s easier to find the information you’re looking for.
Using a contextual search effectively applies a filter, and you can’t apply other filters on the results of a contextual search as are available for normal searches. Also, CTRL/F only searches messages in channels and chats, so the People and Files results returned by normal searches aren’t available.
Even though contextual searches don’t support filters, remember that you can use precise queries to accomplish much the same goal.
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