A Tune-Up for your App: Getting the most out of Global App Search
We often think of Quickbase apps like cars: both are fast, adaptable, and with proper maintenance they will serve you well for many years. While car manufacturers typically design each model with specific needs in mind, they also understand that every car they build may face a wide variety of unexpected challenges. Similarly, as an app builder in Quickbase, it’s impossible to predict every one of the creative ways your colleagues will use your app. Whether you’re dealing with cars or Quickbase apps, one thing that we do know for certain is that someone will always try to take the path of least resistance, and we need to be ready when they do.
There are lots of features in Quickbase that you may find people using unexpectedly, but the one that is most often overlooked is called Global App Search. This handy feature can be a life saver for many app builders, but it can also be a sign that your users don’t have everything they need and can even slow down the performance of your app when utilized too much. That’s why we recommend taking a little time to follow a few easy steps in order to make sure that your app is all tuned up and ready for another 100,000 miles.
Introducing Global App Search
These days, when people can’t find what they’re looking for, they automatically begin looking around for a search box of some kind. In Quickbase, there are actually a few different types of search boxes that you may come across, so I’d like to start off by defining exactly what I mean by “Global App Search.”
The Global App Search is a feature that’s found by default at the top of every page in a Quickbase app, and which has been intentionally designed to make it easy for someone to look up information. Regardless of where the information may live in the app, Global App Search makes finding it is as easy as a click of the magnifying glass.
Imagine that a user in one of your apps is looking for a particular record, and they couldn’t see a way to find it on the home page. Then they notice a magnifying glass icon at the top of the screen, so they click on it and a search box pops up. They type in the name of the item they were hoping to find and within seconds they’re looking at exactly what they want!
This gives your users easy access to all the data in your app, and helps cover any unforeseen need to search for data. For example, a warehouse manager may have built an app without anticipating that people would frequently need to look up customer warehouse addresses. Therefore, he didn’t bother to put a report that includes those addresses on the app’s home page. However, in the months since the app launched more issues are coming up with warehouse locations and now users need that information on a regular basis. Rather than wait for you to update the dashboard, your users can just use global app search to find what they need easily.
Limitations of Global App Search
Despite all its benefits, when this handy feature goes unchecked by app builders for too long it can eventually turn into a big problem. Imagine that one of our users from the earlier example has spent weeks using your app, and over time it’s become a habit for them to just go right to that little search box. They even tell other people that this is the fastest way to find what they’re looking for, and now everyone seems to be getting what they need. This sounds great, but one day you come in to find several emails from people telling you that the page took longer than usual to load!
As your apps grow more popular and more valuable, they tend to get larger and more complex. In such apps it’s helpful to think about the circumstances under which Global App Search will run more quickly or more slowly:
* Did you know that when you search on calculated fields such as certain formulas or summary fields, Quickbase does a ton of data crunching for you? For example, searching a single field might aggregate data across thousands of records stored on many tables, run complex access permissions rules, and process advanced business logic. This puts a lot of power at your fingertips, but it also means those fields might take a little longer to calculate or search. To learn more about how the Quickbase platform is optimized to run your complex business logic, you can read Quickbase Makes Complex Logic Simple on our community or watch Quickbase Under the Hood, recorded from our Empower conference.
Getting a tune-up for a car involves routine diagnostics to make sure everything is running smoothly. To make sure you get the most mileage out of your car, you’d take it for a tune-up even if it’s not currently having issues. This applies to Quickbase apps as well.
In large applications, optimizing search operations can help your app run faster. Perhaps you’ve noticed Global App Search returning results more slowly than it used to. Or, maybe your app is already snappy but it’s growing, and you want to make sure it continues to scale with your business. Either way, we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn how you can optimize the search operations in your app.
How to optimize your app’s search operations
If your users often need to resort to Global App Search to find what they need, they may ask you where they’re supposed to go to find the data they’re looking for. It’s important to pay attention to patterns in this kind of feedback. If you have many people unable to locate the same type of data, that could be a good opportunity for you to tweak your app so that type of data is easier to find. Global App Search is not intended to be the primary way your users find data. Rather, we find people are more effective when using an app home page that consolidates key pieces of information.
When making changes to your home page is not enough, you should follow the steps below to optimize the search operations in your app. If you’re troubleshooting an existing performance issue, you will likely not need to follow all these steps to speed your app up again. In that case, wait a day or so after each step to determine whether you’ve solved the issue.
- Align the list of searchable fields with your users’ needs (first pass). First, go through each table in your app and review the fields to check which ones Global App Search is searching. To see which fields are searchable, while on the field list you can click “Advanced Options” and check the “Searchable” box:
There are some fields you can safely assume will never need to be searched, such as numeric fields, report links, and formula URL fields. Click the green checkmarks in the Searchable column to exclude fields from searches.
NOTE: We strive to offer default settings which balance useful functionality with application performance. To speed up Global App Search while making sure it’s still easy for users to find what they need, we changed the field defaults for searchability. For new fields created after December 2018, some default to being not searchable depending on their field type (see release notes).
- Ask your users what they’re searching for. The most successful app builders are always listening to feedback from their apps’ users. Then they make small, iterative changes to their apps to meet their team’s and their business’s changing needs. Updating your app without an understanding of your users’ current needs is often not helpful. Contact your users to ask what types of data they’re searching for most often.
- Align the list of searchable fields with your users’ needs (second pass). Now that you have a list of what your users are searching for, you may be able to return to your app’s fields and disable the “searchable” property for more fields. This will narrow the fields that are searchable to the fields your users really need to search.
- Consider changing the search default to “Match search term exactly”. Do your users need the slower and more powerful search where Quickbase does a partial match rather than an exact match? If you’re not sure, ask your users to get their perspective. If you think your users can find what they need using an exact search, you can update your app so Global App Search defaults to the exact search. To do this, go to your app’s home page, click the blue gear, then click App Properties. Scroll down, and under Advanced Settings you can check the box labelled “Global searches in this app default to match search term exactly”.
- Train your users on alternatives to Global App Search. Keeping your recent conversations with your users in mind, next you should review your app and list all the ways your users could find the information they need without using Global App Search. For example:
- Search widgets: Do you have any search widgets on your app home page that searches data your users need frequently?
- Reports: Have you already built reports that include the data your users need? If so, are those reports on the app home page, or at least linked from there?
- Add search widgets or reports including crucial data. If your existing reports and dashboards aren’t meeting the needs of your app’s users, you’ll need to make some adjustments based on the user feedback you’ve collected. Be sure to test these changes with your users so you can be confident they will allow them to easily find the data they need on a day-to-day basis.
For app builders troubleshooting an existing performance issue: For nearly all app builders whose app is slowing down due to Global App Search, following the steps above will solve the issue. For those whose apps are still running slowly, you could try archiving old records so less data is being searched, or you could disable Global App Search in your app altogether. However, doing either of those has a larger impact on your users so they should be used sparingly.
If none of the above steps sped your app back up, that’s a strong indication that your issue is not actually being caused by Global App Search. In that case, we’d be happy to work with you directly to help troubleshoot. To get help troubleshooting a slow app, please open a support case by clicking ? at the top of the page, then clicking “Manage Support Cases”. You can then click “+ New Support Case” and a member of our Technical Support team will contact you.