Last month I posted about Education Institute’s upcoming “Federated Search: New Tools and Best Practices” web conference. The conference just happened and here is my review.
Cervone and Wisniewski covered quite a bit of material in the hour allocated for the web conference. Attendees received a 40 page slide show to follow along with during the presentation. The slides covered these subjects:
- Very brief introduction to federated search
- Screen shots of a number of federated search applications
- Graphs showing upward trends in federated search use at the presenters’ universities
- “The world is shrinking” – consolidation of vendors and offerings
- Simplification of search interfaces
- The landscape of federated search vendors past and present
- Integration of content accessed from all sources
- Open source offerings
- Enhanced tools and features
While an hour might seem like too little time to cover all this material the presenters managed to do it without even seeming to rush but that may be because I have a good amount of familiarity with the industry.
The presenters introduced what they considered to be the two major problems of federated search, the “prior knowledge” problem of not knowing what a library has and how it’s organized, and the “duplication of effort” problem where individual searches of different resources yields a number of identical documents. I would add speed and ease of use to this list, which the presenters did address later.
A good amount of the presentation focused on the ever-changing landscape of federated search vendors. I found this part of the talk to be confusing. Too much information was presented in too little time. Names of vendors and their offerings and details about who acquired who and about whose backend was used in whose product went by way too quickly and was very difficult to follow even with the accompanying slide. I would recommend that future versions of this presentation include more slides to capture the details.
One value of the landscape discussion was to inform listeners as to who the vendors were that have abandoned active pursuit of the library market.
Aside from the confusion of the landscape talk, I question the value of this history lesson to an audience that I imagine is made up mostly of people evaluating solutions. These people want to know what the features and benefits are from current vendors. This information was hardly covered, except for some references to some features, mostly from open source products. Having said that the coverage of the three major open source strategies was quite good giving a starting place for potential customers who want to compare open source offerings to the commercial ones.
The presenters’ assessment of future trends was enlightening. The major themes included simplification of user interfaces, progress on standards, XML syndication of content, enhancement of features, consolidation of vendors and offerings, more affordable solutions that are quicker and easier to deploy, and speeding up of searches. The presenters did such an outstanding job of covering the major trends that I think that part of the presentation alone was worth the cost of the conference. As someone who’s been around the industry for a while I agree with all of the trends stated.
In summary, I found the presentation interesting and useful with a good pace, except for the hurried landscape discussion. I found the trend discussion to be particularly valuable and the walk-through of a number of product screen shots to be helpful. Unless I’m off base that the audience is primarily potential customers of the technology I would have focused more on identifying who the major players are and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
At this time Education Institute does not have another of these presentations scheduled. If I hear of the two making the same presentation elsewhere I will let you know.
[ Update 1/9/08: Cervone and Wisniewski will be giving a presentation titled “What’s New With Federated Search?” at Information Today’s “Computers in Libraries 2008 General Conference” in April. It’s not clear that this is the same presentation I attended but I bet there will be lots of overlap. For more information go to the conference web page and search for “Session A103”. ]