posted 30 May 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 8
Making Search Work
Author: Martin White
Publisher: Facet Publishing
Price: $69.50 / GBP39.95
What’s the problem with search? Type in your search term, peruse the responses, then click on the best one. Easy.
That, at least, is how Google works, or how it would like you to believe it works. In a typical organisation, however, with both a public site as well as an internal intranet, it is a major challenge.
On the one hand, the function usually does not generate business per se and return on investment from, say, implementing an expensive new search engine technology can be hard to calculate. On the other hand, staff certainly do need better tools in order to find the information they want – quickly – just the same as users of the public website.
So content managers are under pressure to deliver a swift and accurate search service for a range of users with widely diverging needs, yet often without having big money to spend on sophisticated search technology. What’s a content manager to do?
Martin White’s Making Search Work is intended to help organisations understand, specify and implement search for desktop PCs, websites and intranets. White’s book, however, starts from first principles – how search works – before moving on to weightier search topics, such as implementing search for a website, for which he provides a simple ten-step plan:
What will the benefits be to site users/visitors?
Consider the technical options;
Develop and obtain approval for a business case;
Write a project plan;
Agree the outline search parameters;
Revise the content;
Select a vendor;
Install and test for usability;
Review and revise.
That list provides a sensible enough structure for implementation. At the same time, White also tackles such issues as the use of open source software, hosted search – in which the function is outsourced to a specialist – and the use of search appliances. However, he does not go into great depth about any of these subjects. Indeed, the complex subject of web-search implementation is, surprisingly, covered in fewer than ten-pages.
That is the problem: the book does not cover any topic in particular depth and, in the process, falls short not just for technologists seeking a framework for implementing search in any given situation, but also for senior managers seeking a high-level overview to better enable them to manage, for example, the search function of an intranet or e-commerce website.
It does, however, provide a valuable chapter on the complexities of multilingual (and multi-alphabet) search. For example, how do you accurately search for an Arabic name using the Latin alphabet and Western naming conventions? There are, apparently, 87 different ways of writing the name of the Libyan President, Mummar el Gaddafi.
However, this book provides few solutions to such a conundrum, beyond the somewhat superficial advice to implement software from a specialist vendor, such as Basis Technology or Teregram. For the price the reader has a right to expect more depth and detail for their money. Martin White is certainly an authority on search and search engine technology. Unfortunately, this book fails to distill that knowledge into a sufficiently potent form.
Review by Graeme Burton