Archive for September, 2009


In November I’ll be moderating a panel for the Enterprise Search Summit in San Jose, Ca. The topic - Federated Search: A Wonder or a Waste? The heavy lifting (answering of hard questions) will be handled by our expert panelists: Peter Noerr (CTO of MuseGlobal), Carl Grant (President of Ex Libris, North America), and Christopher Cox (Dean of Libraries at Western Washington University.

Here’s the abstract of our panel:

Opinions about the value of federated search vary widely. Some view it as the optimal way to discover unified content. Others believe it to be a slow and poor substitute for searching the underlying sources. Some see it as a necessary evil and learn to tolerate it within their organizations. Come listen to our three panelists discuss their experience with numerous federated search deployments. Learn about the benefits federated search can offer as well as its shortcomings and common pitfalls. Walk away knowing if federated search is right for your organization and how to get from a blank search screen to one that delivers the results your users need.

Carl, Peter, Christopher and I had a phone meeting the other day to plan for the panel. While we will solicit questions from the audience and otherwise engage them as much as possible, we also want to have some questions prepared to get the ball rolling. My question to readers of this blog: What are the hot topics in federated search and what questions do you have about them? We’ll be paying particular attention to federated search in the enterprise at the conference but, regardless of where you use federated search, if you were in the audience, what would you ask the panel?

Here are a few of the questions we came up with. (No, I don’t want to give away all of them.)

  1. Is federated search a dying technology?
  2. Can federated search and discovery services play nicely together? How would that look?
  3. Federated searching in the cloud: what are the pros and cons?
  4. Is there any hope that connectors will become easier to build and maintain?

What are your hot questions?


Over a year ago I published a review of a paper: Initiating the Learning Process - A Model for Federated Searching and Information Literacy. I had recruited a number of volunteers to write reviews of essays from Christopher Cox’s excellent book about federated search. Scott Rice wrote that review.

Those of you who don’t have access to that paper, beyond reading Mr. Rice’s excellent review, can now read a number of the points the paper makes in the Begley Reference Blog. A dozen excerpts from the paper are highlighted.

The excerpt I found most interesting was about “weaning students” from tools like Google and toward more scholarly applications:

“When searching for information, students will utilize strategies that have worked in the past. If they use the Web for academic research and have not been introduced to other search possibilities, they will likely turn to the Web again when faced with a new information need. This is a challenge librarians face when introducing library resources as search alternatives. The search interfaces in many such resources are not always intuitive and easy-to-use. Federated searching provides opportunities to teach students about academic research by introducing search tools that they will want to use. The single search box model that most federated search tools employ provides a way for librarians to bridge the gap between Web searching and database or catalog searching. If librarians can wean students from the Web by presenting them with a similar tool that yields more scholarly results, then part of the process of developing their ability to choose appropriate information retrieval systems will be attained.” (p 249)

The excerpts and the paper itself provide good food for thought about how students and librarians view federated search.


Last year blog sponsor Deep Web Technologies sponsored a writing contest. We gave away cash and other nice prizes and we’re going to do it again this year.

While we don’t have all the details worked out we would like for everyone to start thinking about this contest. Here’s the theme:

Tell us about the most impressive federated search application you’ve ever seen, or about one you’ve dreamed up. How innovative can federated search be? What unique problems can it solve?

Over the coming weeks we’ll be fleshing out the details. In the meantime, I would appreciate it if you’d spread the word.


Helen Mitchell, Principal at Enterprising Solutions with over 30 years of experience at FDA leading one of the largest enterprise search implementations among Civilian Federal Agencies, recently produced a webinar for SLA. The 43 slides and the slide transcript for the webinar, Federated Search in a Disparate Environment, are available on Slideshare and embedded below.

Read the rest of this entry »


If you are an outstanding web designer or know one, I’d like to bring your attention to a post in blog sponsor Deep Web Technologies’ Blog: Calling all web designers … RFQ for theme development issued. Here’s part of the post:

We are … excited to announce that we are seeking the services of four (4) web designers (firms or individuals) to construct the CSS and graphic files for a theme for our upcoming Software-as-a-Service based federated search product.

To this effort, we have issued a Request-for-Quote (RFQ), which is available here.

The response deadline is noon (MST), September 15th, 2009, and we will pick four from the available group of responses by September 16th. We want the project to begin as soon as possible, with a deadline for completion of the project by October 16th, 2009.

It’s very important to us to have four (4) great-looking themes by October 16th. We have included a contest within our RFQ, where we will evaluate the themes submitted and award the first-place theme a $2,000 bonus, and the second-place theme a $1,000 bonus. Note: This bonus is only available to those four (4) web designers we have selected from the responses we’ve received to this RFQ.

Please note the short deadline and help us to spread the word. And, even if you’re not a web designer, I recommend that you read the RFQ to learn about an exciting new direction for Deep Web Technologies.


Get off the net” is a fun post by Tim at the Digging Below the Surface Blog reminding us that sometimes useful information exists in paper form that just isn’t available online.

He writes about reference books that go back 200 years - city directories - that list who lived in a particular city during a given year. Tim has used these books to perform genealogy research as well as to look up recent phone and address information. Tim states that he’s never found an online service that provides this information.

We’re not ready for a paperless world yet, are we? The folks at Cushing Academy New England Prep School (mentioned in this Boston Globe article) might want to reconsider their library without books. (Hat tip to João Greno Brogueira for the link to the Cushing article.)


Reference Services Review recently published an article: Student perceptions of federated searching vs single database searching. The article is authored by Annie Armstrong of the Reference Department at Richard J. Daley Library, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC.) The 13 page article is available as an electronic download for $20USD plus $3 handling at the article link above. I purchased a copy for review.

The article aims to see how students feel about federated search vs. searching a single source. What do they think of the relevance of results from each? How easy do they find the two to use? A study was performed in which students were asked to answer qualitative and quantitative questions about the two search tools as used in a research assignment on a topic of their choosing. The article provides the expected background material, a review of the literature, and methodology. A bulk of the paper discusses the study’s results.

Read the rest of this entry »


For those of you who aren’t aware, blog sponsor Deep Web Technologies has its own blog. The blog started in December of last year and has been gaining momentum in recent months.

My brother, Abe, just posted an article on the Deep Web Technologies blog challenging readers to find the oldest reference to the term “federated search” in the literature. The oldest reference Abe could find dates back to May 1996, in an IEEE Computer Magazine article entitled “Federating Diverse Collections of Scientific Literature.”

Can you find an older reference?