The other night brother Abe, founder of Deep Web Technologies, and I were having a conversation about the term “federated search.” Abe told me about an article published in New Idea Engineering titled “What’s in a name: Federated Search.” Author Miles Kehoe also ran into a customer who believed that federated search meant the searching of content that had been “federated” into a single index and searched from the one index. Specifically, Kehoe wrote:

“… our customer - whose search team is staffed with equally bright folks - were of the opinion that a federated search meant that content from a number of different data stores would be indexed into a single search index, where users could enter queries and see results from all of the data stores would come from that one master index.”

I thought, “Gee, that’s interesting. Why is he telling me this? Kehoe’s experience with his customer must be unique.” Then Abe shared with me that he was at a conference a while back in which someone he was talking to had the same impression. Abe explained to the person that the term was most commonly used to refer to searching for content that was simultaneously accessed from multiple sources, with multiple indexes powering the search engines from the different sources whose content was being federated.

The distinction, of course, is crucial. If you’re meeting with a potential customer who believes you’re discussing an approach where all content is harvested, indexed and accessed from one source but you think you’re discussing live search of heterogeneous sources then you’re talking apples and oranges.

I spent some time Googling for other stories of confusion over the term’s meaning but couldn’t turn up any interesting references. So, either this confusion isn’t widespread or it’ll take someone more clever than myself to find examples on the web.

Have any of you run into this particular confusion? Do share.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 12th, 2007 at 4:08 pm and is filed under basics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or TrackBack URI from your own site.

4 Responses so far to "Federated search by any other name …"

  1. 1 Bill Love
    January 19th, 2009 at 1:14 pm  

    The company I work with believes federated search means you can find virtually any piece of information, or multiple references to it or of it, in a virtually unlimited number of disconnected locations, in a variety of formats, or file extensions. I’m suggesting we consolidate our IP and command media into a single MediaWiki repository and hopscotch over most of the issues associated with this subject of federated searching. We’re currently trying to convince the powers that this method is superior to the SharePoint version, for many reasons. There is very little out there that compares the two tools. Ideas, suggestions?

  2. 2 Sol
    January 19th, 2009 at 5:53 pm  

    Bill - Great comment and good question. Let me give this some thought so that I can respond in a helpful way.

  3. 3 Bill Love
    January 20th, 2009 at 7:14 am  

    Thanks, Sol. As a follow-on note, I’ve suggested to our IT group that what we’re really doing by implementing federated searching capability is actually rewarding bad behavior. What I mean is, putting our command media, for example, into a single wiki will eliminate the spiderweb of web sites, share folders, and other repositories of information that essentially disguise this media and makes it very difficult to find. Without this central wiki, we continue to reinvent the wheel with ongoing construction of yet more Web sites, share folders, and SharePoint wiki sites that serve basically the same purpose as a vertical/hierarchical share folder system that wastes inordinate amounts of search time and productivity. Back in the late ’90s, I wrote a paper that defined how data could be developed into information that could then be shared/transformed into knowledge, by simply using hot links within a central repository. By 2001, MediaWiki appeared on the scene. You know what they say about being in the right place at the right time.

  4. 4 Sol
    January 25th, 2009 at 9:01 am  

    Bill - I returned yesterday from 8 days of travel. Let me digest your two comments and then I’ll reply to you.

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