Search, when effectively integrated with content, creates a combination that is greater than the sum of the two separately.
Let us consider an example.
A printed phone book has been available to people for decades. The information in it was accessible primarily for one intended purpose: search by name for phone number and home address. Accessing it differently (e.g. search by phone number for home address and name) was practically impossible for most people, even though the information was all there in the phone book. When the same phone book — the exact same content is made searchable via a computer, it raises privacy issues. When the same computer assisted search is made easily available to millions over the Internet, it raises serious privacy concerns. Notice the content didn’t change, but adding search-ability to the content transformed the content into something more powerful.
Search technology is a powerful enabler.
I do not view content and search technology as two separate entities that can be put together to provide better information. Many web sites do this and that is one of the key reasons why their site search is ineffective.
Search is most effective when it is intimately integrated with the content.
Content should not be considered merely a block of text or data. It should be considered an object: a combination of data and functionality. This is similar to an object in the computer science term object-oriented. The search-ability should not be external to the content, but the content itself should be search-enabled. Besides text and data, the content object should include both headers and in-line meta-data to be searchable better. A better form of content is one that has search-enablement built into it or integrated with it. This search-enablement could be programmable code, rule sets, meta-data or a combination.
Let us discuss an example to illustrate this.
A news media site has many types of content in it. Let us consider two of them: news articles and movie listings. When an external search engine such as Google brings back results from such a site, it does not effectively differentiate between these two types of content. For an external search engine, they are just web pages.
It would be better if the search engine employed on the site had an understanding of the types of content and searched it differently. Some sites such as the new Yahoo Search and C|Net do a fairly good job at this when they bring back search results from different types of content repositories.
When someone searches for “digital cameras”, the following types of content are of relevance to them: product information, product reviews, product storefront. This is because someone looking to buy a digital camera would like to know more about digital cameras, would like to read reviews of different digital cameras and would like to find a place where they can buy one. A search engine that treats all these different types of content the same — as web pages — isn’t very effective. An effective search solution groups these different types of search results for better access.
Search would be even more useful, if the content itself (being object oriented) knew how to interact with the search engine.
This could be achieved using adapters for each type of content. The search engine would talk to the adapter, which would be intimately integrated with the content. This would result in the content (via the adapter) responding differently to different types and combinations of search queries. It would result in a very useful and powerful search for the users.
At a news media site, examples of adapters would include: news article adapter, movie listing adapter, classified ad adapter, etc. These adapters would be implemented using an object-oriented programming language such as Java or C#. Search-ability would be just one aspect of these adapters’ functionality. They would be provide a wrapper around the content and provide functionality like accessing and editing the content. An example technical design of these adapters is the subject of my article for a technical audience.
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