Wednesday, 16th May 2007
Let's Talk Metasearch, Federated Search, or Universal Search
With all of the talk about Google's Universal Search initiative announced today, we think it's important to take a look at what's currently out there and where things are going. Of course, Search Engine Land has more and focuses on the fact that Google will be blending results from disparate databases into one results list -- the main results list (aka organic results).
The big issue we see here is searcher behavior. In other words, many good, relevant and useful results can be found on the web. Now, more content will be attempting to get into these results on Google. In other words, every good result can't be in the top 5 or top 10 where the typical searcher looks. It will be interesting from a searcher perspective (the ResourceShelf perspective) if gaming of the results becomes even more ferocious. In terms of what Google is doing, the query will trigger material from disparate data sources. It will be interesting to watch.
For many years, ResourceShelf has been talking about metasearch or, as some call it, federated search, single interface, or cross-database searching. In a nutshell, we're talking about one search that will query multiple databases in a single query, dedupe results, sort (as desired by the end user; most likely by relevance), and offer post processing options. Perhaps the most important issue is database selection help; with technology coming online, that can be made easier. This is key because, in truth, most users just want results and care little where they are coming from. Resource selection can be and should be a key role for the info professional.
All of this makes sense in our opinion. Why? If done properly, universal search/metasearch can save the end user/searcher time, effort and aggravation. If -- and this is a big if -- it's done correctly. If it's done incorrectly, you've created a mess.
The concept of querying multiple database (often from different providers vs. from a single database owner) itself is hardly new. What is new is the technology, which continues to get better both in terms of speed and relevance. Those of you who have been involved in web search for many years will remember tools like Copernic that searched disparate databases with a single query.
Of course, those of you who have been online since the pre-web era (e.g., back to 1972) know that database "supermarkets" like Dialog offers a common query language that can allows the searching of numerous databases -- of the hundreds in the Dialog catalog -- simultaneously. Of course, searching ALL of them at one time is probably not in the best interest (in terms of time, money, and effort) of the searcher. Dialog also has "pre-built"
collections/groups named OneSearch.
Fast Fact: NISO has had a Metasearch Initiative since 2003.
At the end of 2005, Gary, while still working at Search Engine Watch, posted an article on the importance (if done right) of metasearching.
These days, many libraries offer metasearch/federated search resources from a variety of providers like MuseGlobal, FretWell-Downing/OCLC, Autographics, and WebFeat. For example, the San Francisco Public Library offers a meta search tool to search multiple disparate databases with a single query. As noted above, many of these tools offer one results list but, if needed, allow the end user to sort by one of several criteria.
Specifically, Web Search
Well, when it comes to web search -- the single search box and adding value added info -- many have been doing this for years.
Using Vivisimo's technology, Clusty gathers results and then dynamically generates clusters. Another search tool that pulls results from many databases is Bio-Meta Cluster.
AOL has offered Full-View since October 2006 -- e.g., results from various databases in the right rail. However, when we looked a few minutes ago, several of the full view examples are no longer available. Now, you see either AOL OneBox at the top of the page or links to specific verticals near the top of the results page. Here's the AOL Full View example page showing what is/was? available.
First, the new Yahoo OneSearch for Mobile (single box) and even longer if you toss in "shortcuts" when applicable on web results pages (top of the page). Note the visitors guide here and the local listings here.
This service is based on AltaVista's shortcuts, the first service to offer this feature. It came online in 2002.
MS Live has offered results from disparate services for a couple of years. In some cases, it offers direct links to actual answers. Top of the page.
Of course, Google has offered OneBoxes for a couple of years. These boxes, found at the top of a results page, might include news headlines, movie times, stock prices, and other info.
+ Example #1
+ Example #2
+ Example #3
Ask.com offers a number of Smart Answers with results coming from both internal and external sources. Some offer real time info, other actual answers, and others pre-built links to key sources and databases. Found at the top of a results page. Examples:
+ Real Time
+ Actual Answer (via IMDB)
+ Smart Answer #1 (Note the disambiguation options)
+ Smart Answer #2
Note the list of sources.
AskX, the Ask.com prototype, offers many types of disparate sources on a single results page. Here the results are placed both at the top of the page and in the right rail.
++ Example 1 (Chicago, IL)
Note the variety of sources at the top of the page and along the right rail. Suggestions are now found on the left rail.
++ Example 2 (No Doubt)
Note the images, shopping, reference material, videos, etc. BTW, click on the magnifying glass that will appear next to each database (on the right side); this allows you tp run a new search of that database without having to go to a new interface.
Of course, hundreds of other metasearch database that focus on a specific type of info have been online for years. They include:
+ SearchforVideo.com and PureVideo
+ Topix (News)
+ Indeed.com and SimplyHired (Jobs)
+ FareCast and Kayak (Travel)
+ mPire and Become.com (Shopping)
* Gary is Director of Online Information Resources at Ask.com
UPDATE: On another note, companies like Metacarta have been working to make maps "text" searchable for several years. The company currently offers a free trial of its GeoIntel for Petroleum. Search historians might also remember the Northern Light, Vicinity product; that was seven long years ago.
UPDATE: Chris Sherman Writes: Google's Promising, But Yahoo's Doing, Cross Language Information Retrieval (via SEL)