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Faceted search makes librarians shine (Or, "Why you need a librarian to make your search engine really work.")

By Phil Green, Lucidea COO

I have been working with an early version of the next Presto release. The feature that has me salivating is faceted search (also sometimes referred to as "guided navigation"). Wikipedia defines faceted search as "a technique for accessing information organized according to a
faceted classification system, allowing users to explore a collection of information by applying multiple filters." Basically, if you’ve used an ecommerce site lately, it’s the right- or left-hand navigational aids that help you narrow your search by brand, price, key feature, etc.

Faceted searching is very useful for helping users more easily and quickly find the information that they want – way more efficiently than with full text search alone. This is why almost all ecommerce sites have implemented it. For example, Amazon (King of Ecommerce!) has a particularly good implementation. Ecommerce sites are able to make excellent use of faceted searching because they have facets (or, in database terms, fielded information). For example, I recently purchased an external, USB 3.0, solid state hard drive on Amazon – and getting to the list of available products using faceted search was incredibly easy. I did a quick search, then used the faceted navigation to narrow my results. A few keystrokes later, I was looking at just the drive I wanted to buy!

So why doesn’t Google (King of Search!) use faceted searching? The simple answer is that they don’t have fielded data. They are operating at the level of Web pages and not with well-curated database records (like the ecommerce guys). Which brings me back to my sub-title, and the second reason I like faceted search. Because it makes the work of special librarians shine like no other feature I have ever used. To make faceted search work well, you need two things:

  • First, the database must be carefully constructed to have the fields (facets) that are critical to understanding and describing the items contained in the database. (For example, in ecommerce those would be brand, price, etc.)
  • Second, these fields (facets) must be filled with high-quality content so that guided navigation works well.
In talking to industry consultants, I’ve heard that the ecommerce guys hate guided navigation systems. Why? Because they are such a pain. Full text search is easy. Just feed your information into the search engine and you’re done. Full text search isn’t fussy. No structure to your data? No problem! Low quality inputs? No problem! But to make faceted search work, you have to carefully architect the system and then fill it will high-quality data.

In other words, you often need librarians to help you build a high-quality database.
 Well, guess what? This is what Inmagic clients do every day. When our customers build a knowledge repository, catalog, or archive, they carefully structure the database to have fields (facets) that will truly describe the item – then they use validation lists and controlled vocabulary to fill the database up with high-quality content.

This means that our customers’ databases already meet the requirements for an excellent faceted search experience, which means I can’t wait until our customers have access to the next version of Presto (or Presto for DB/TextWorks) because the results will be amazing. With faceted searching – finding is a lot easier, and the value of your librarian is on display with every search!

Please stay tuned for a follow-up post on the difference between faceted searching and on-the-fly content classifiers (which provide guided navigation, but not true faceted search).



“If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.” Lew Platt, CEO, Hewlett-Packard

As part of our "One Team, One Company" effort, we'd like to introduce our loyal readers to another great blog that's recently come on the scene -- our parent company, Lucidea, is exploring all things knowledge management including products, innovation, and project, people and content management. Below is a recent post from CEO Ron Aspe about tapping into organizational knowledge.


By Ron Aspe

A KM strategy may not actually achieve 3X productivity, but impact - whether it is measured in profits or even in lives saved - can be dramatic, with amazing results as shown by the examples below:
  • A mountain rescue organization proactively communicates warnings of adverse conditions to equipment retailers, guides, the media and individual subscribers. Four novice climbers decide to stay home rather than risk death.
  • A professional services firm repurposes prior work and increases their billings by 1% -- resulting in 10% increase in profitability.
  • A software company reuses existing intellectual property to enter a new market segment. The lowered development costs result in a triple digit ROI.

Lew Platt and hundreds of other CEOs all know that if only they could tap the skills and knowledge within their own staff, it would be transformative. Imagine the impact if anyone in an organization who undertakes an assignment could easily discover if it’s been done before, if so by whom, and exactly how.

The Eureka project at Xerox is a great example of knowledge management delivering a stunning ROI. 15,000 service technicians contribute to and search a system containing 50,000 tips and techniques not documented in service manuals. Use of this system resulted in 10% reductions in labor and parts costs. Assuming a 10% profit margin and flat revenue, a 10% reduction in costs would result in a 100% increase in the profitability of Xerox’s service business.

If you aren’t sure this will work in your smaller organization, consider the following: if you’ve found a great local automobile mechanic, you can bet s/he uses Q&A forums. Mechanics are often paid "book time." That means that if the estimating guide used by the services manager says it takes three hours to fix something, the mechanic will be paid for three hours. Even for those who aren’t paid in this manner, performance is often measured against book time.

Like all professional services people, mechanics know that time is money, and that someone, somewhere has already solved, or is trying to solve, the problem they’re working on. They need to be efficient, and access to Q&A forums is proven to improve productivity. The mechanics don’t know everything -- they simply know where to find the answer.

If you want to increase the impact of your organization, no matter how you measure it, knowledge management has paradigm shifting potential. And that takes us back to Lew Platt’s assertion. How would your organization benefit if only it knew what it already knows?

Click here to read more posts from Ron and SydneyPLUS.

What’s up with Inmagic’s products? We’ll tell you.

Last month we held an Inmagic product roadmap update webinar where we went into detail about product enhancements, new releases and future plans for DB/TextWorks, WebPublisher PRO, Genie, Presto Social Library, Presto, and Presto for DB/Text. For those of you who couldn’t join us, here’s the highlight reel of the webinar, as well as a link to the archived webinar if you’re looking for the whole shebang.

View the archived webinar here.

DB/TextWorks (v14 preview)
  • Updated image and PDF viewing
  • Improved spell-check system
  • Ability to create and use multiple named profiles for import, export, and email
  • Ability to update records when the new entry is already present in list
  • Windows 8 compatibility

WebPublisher PRO (v14 preview)
  • Validation list editing on the Web
  • Additional flexibility for query logging (e.g., textbase-specific, and the ability to start a new file after various conditions)

  • Genie v3.5 was released in June of 2012
  • Genie v3.6 is in development, planned features include: editing and updating of validation lists, easier navigation during editing sessions, orders enhancements
  • Compatibility with Windows Server 2012 upcoming for maintenance clients

Presto Social Library v2.0
  • New Presto and Genie integration via Presto DB/TextWorks connector is now available
  • More robust integration
  • Changes made to Genie content via DB/TextWorks will synchronize in Presto
  • New ILS option for PSL via SydneyPLUS ILS

Presto v4.1
  • DB/Text Connector
  • Improved search speed
  • Advanced control of screen layout
  • PDF thumbnails
  • “Slide show” widget for homepage
  • Download as CSV

Presto for DB/TextWorks (see blog post for more details)
  • Advanced Web publishing for DB/TextWorks
  • Build and maintain your textbase in DB/TextWorks
  • Publish to the Web with Presto for DB/TextWorks
  • No need for WebPublisher PRO

As always, feel free to contact us if you have any questions or would like more details on any of our product advancements or future plans.


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