February 20, 2004  


SLAC Web Search Improved!

By Beck Reitmeyer

Searchers rejoice!

The first improvements in the online search of the SLAC Web since 1998 are due to an upgrade implemented by the Search Team—Ruth McDunn (TIS), Dennis Wisinski (SCS), Bebo White (SCS), and Billie Khan (TIS).

Rather than continue to piggyback on the Stanford University search tool, the Search Team, with input from Ray Cowan (SLD), Douglas Smith (SCS), Travis Brooks (TIS), and Louise Addis (TIS), plus Kathy Bellevin (COM), Kim Sutton (TIS), Marshall Thompson (BSD), and Paul Bloom (KM), put together a list of requirements for an ideal search tool.

They then ranked the requirements from ‘must-have’ to ‘would-be-nice’. A comparison of these requirements, with features offered by major search tool vendors, led the team to establish SLAC’s own contract with Verity to upgrade the existing tool to the latest version of Ultraseek, the new product name for Inktomi. "We leveraged our years of experience by upgrading our existing product as opposed to starting over with another tool," said McDunn.

The upgraded search tool offers a number of advantages for SLAC. Of immediate importance is the indexing of the restricted collections on the www-internal server and in the slaconly directories on UNIX. Detailed reporting allows the team, among other things, to fine-tune the tool to provide Quick Links for frequently searched words, such as ‘cafeteria’ (by far the most popular search term).

By keeping track of what users click through on the results page, it is possible to determine what information is and isn’t useful, and where information needs to be added. Other features directly evident to searchers are the spell checker feature that shows alternate spellings for search terms and the highlight feature that shows the search terms in the HTML and PDF documents that were found. "This tool offers more than simple searching," White said.

Regardless of the search tool or features used, searches of the SLAC Web are more productive when you enter effective queries and create more detailed Web pages. If you’re having difficulty finding what you need, read the Search Tips (http://www.slac.stanford.edu/search/index.html#techniques), which are being updated regularly to help you fine-tune your search results.

If you are a content creator for the SLAC Web, be sure to properly tag metadata and title your pages appropriately. McDunn will offer training sessions both for searchers on how to optimize your searches, and for Web authors on how to design and tag a Web page so that searchers can find the information they need.

"We are taking searching seriously," White said, about long-term plans to improve searching the SLAC Web. Now that the initial upgrade is complete, the team is focusing on other areas where improvements can be made and encourages all users to send feedback and suggestions at http://www-group.slac.stanford.edu/wim/search.


The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center is managed by Stanford University for the US Department of Energy

Last update Thursday February 19, 2004 by Emily Ball