Archive for January, 2010


What a mess!

Author: Sol

My radar (Google Alerts) pointed me this morning to this article by Barbara Quint at Information Today. My first response to “EBSCO Exclusives Trigger Turmoil” was “What a mess!” Quint shares the saga of EBSCO and Gale lobbing volleys at each other during the ALA Midwinter meeting. EBSCO announces new acquisitions that were ‘exclusive to EBSCO for the library “marketspace.”‘ Major competitor Gale issued a letter to the library community urging “librarians to get involved in opposing publishers granting exclusives, at least to EBSCO.” Read Quint’s article for all the gory details.

If you’re a librarian running or contemplating a discovery service, how do you feel? EBSCO has some new content I assume is going to become available via their EBSCO Discovery Service and some content is going to disappear from Gale’s holding which I assume means it will disappear from Serials Solutions’ Summon discovery service which includes Gale as a major participant.

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Blog sponsor Deep Web Technologies built a federated search tool for Stanford University. I was involved with the first prototype and I’m proud of what the Stanford/Deep Web Technologies partnership has accomplished. Stanford’s Grace Baysinger - head librarian and bibliographer for the Swain Library of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering - provides a nice overview of the search tool in the “Speaking of Computers” newsletter. And, Deep Web Technologies’ account manager, Debbie Taylor, shares a little bit of her involvement with the project as well on the Deep Web Technologies Blog.

My involvement with the Stanford federated search tool was multi-faceted. I worked with Stanford to understand their requirements. I also worked with Deep Web Technologies’ connector team to build the source interfaces Stanford wanted. I even used my limited web design skills to create the HTML that was used in the very first prototype. There were many conversations and many details that were worked out during a number of phone conversations. When I left my full time position of engineer and manager at Deep Web Technologies I lost touch with the folks at Stanford who led the way in introducing federated search to their university. I hear that they’re very happy with their search tool. I’m proud to have had a role in the building of that tool.


I recently purchased a copy of How UK academic libraries choose metasearch systems from Emerald Insight. I was reading the article on my way to writing a review of it when I was struck by this statement:

Advice comes from successful, as well as unsuccessful implementations. One of the most common pieces of advice is that libraries should remember to treat metasearch as a service, not a product, and to ensure that there is adequate post-installation vendor support.

What struck me was that the statement, which seemed so obvious to me, was deemed important enough by the authors to state explicitly. Of course, federated search is a service. Whether or not you host federated search on your own servers with your own staff managing the server hardware, software, and application there’s plenty of service that someone will have to perform, and it’s on an ongoing basis. Off the top of my head, here are some service aspects to federated search:

  • Building connectors - the more work that goes into building connectors the better the search experience
  • Monitoring/disabling/re-enabling connectors when sources become unavailable and when they come back
  • Updating or rewriting connectors when sources change their search interface
  • Updating the application when the vendor provides new maintenance or feature releases
  • Customizing the application to suit your needs

None of these tasks are easy. Each requires vendor support or time from your staff.

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Abe pointed me to an article, “An info island or the kitchen sink: when you think about federated search engines, think about what you’ll include in the searches.” While the article is a bit dated (2007) it has this air of timelessness to it.

The author, Richard Todd, considers three paths to source selection:

In the course of implementing a federated search engine at my organization, I eventually recognized three fundamental approaches for determining which of the available sources to include in our system. I call these three guiding concepts the kitchen sink approach, the Easter Island approach, and the gatekeeper approach.

Without reading further can you guess what these three approaches are? Abe told me that he was contacted by someone who threw out these terms as if Abe should be familiar with them. He wasn’t. Neither was I.

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Five noted experts in the federated search are serving as volunteer judges for our second annual contest. In the next few weeks they will have selected the winners.

Here are the bios of the judges.

Abe Lederman has 25 years of experience in computer software engineering. He began his career with Hewlett Packard and was then recruited to become a founding member of Verity, a startup pioneer in the field of search engine technology. In 1994, Abe left Verity and later founded Innovative Web Applications (IWA), a software consulting firm primarily serving Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). While consulting with LANL and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI), Abe came to realize the enormous potential for federated search technology to accelerate the diffusion of knowledge. He founded Deep Web Technologies in 2002. Abe holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Todd Miller Todd Miller is President and Founder of gwabbit, maker of the award-winning series of gwabbit semantic contact capture and management products. Declared a “Head-slappingly simple solution to a grating problem” by BusinessWeek, gwabbit has won numerous industry awards, including Inc Magazine’s list of “Top Smartphone Apps for 2009,” as well as winner of the 2010 CES Mobile Apps Showdown, and a DEMOgod award — the highest honor bestowed by the nation’s premier technology conference for launching startup companies.

Prior to launching gwabbit, Todd founded the federated search company, WebFeat, which was sold to ProQuest in February 2008. WebFeat was used by thousands of libraries and information centers worldwide. Todd was also president of Knight Ridder Information’s SourceOne subsidiary and also worked at Ziff Davis’ Information Access Company subsidiary, where he developed and managed the highly successful InfoTrac product line.

Miller holds four patents in the field of search technology and authentication and session management. He has received awards from the Gartner Group, Reed Publishing, The DEMO Conference, and others. Miller has been a featured speaker on IBM’s eBusiness Tour and was featured in IBM’s “Success Stories” campaign. In his abundant spare time, Miller is a competitive horseback rider. He resides in Carmel Valley, CA with his wife and their rescue dogs, horses, and other quadrupeds.

Helen Mitchell has enjoyed working in the Enterprise Search arena for 20+ years. She currently has 2 main roles - 1) As Principal for Team Technology, Inc. leading an Enterprise Search Requirements project for the FDA as well as a search implementation for FDIC and 2) As Principal of her own IT Consulting Firm, Enterprising Solutions. Helen works closely with public and private sector clients to develop search strategies and solutions across disparate data sources and the deep web. She’s conducted Federated Search Webinars and will present 2 Continuing Education Federated Search courses at the Special Library Association’s Annual Conference. Being vendor neutral, she utilizes the ‘best’ technologies for clients to reduce costs, improve quality and efficiency, reduce ‘pain points’ and achieve a positive search experience. She retired from FDA in 2008 after 32 years of service where she led one of the largest enterprise search implementations among Civilian Federal Agencies. She facilitated integration of more than 20 million documents and applications into this system utilizing federated search connectors to improve their content findability. Helen is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars on search technologies.

Richard Tong is the Founder and President of Tarragon Consulting Corporation. Tarragon develops custom solutions to the critical knowledge management and content analysis problems faced by Government and Industry. Tarragon uses its in-depth business and technical expertise to support organizations in the creation of high-value applications for customers, suppliers, and employees.

Prior to starting Tarragon, Dr. Tong co-founded, and was CTO at, Sageware, Inc.. Prior to Sageware, Dr. Tong was Director of Advanced Technology at Verity, Inc.

Dr. Tong has over twenty-five years experience in the design and deployment of advanced information systems for Government and Industry. He has extensive consulting experience with Booz Allen Hamilton and with Advanced Decision Systems, where he directed the R&D team that created the information retrieval capability that led to the forming of Verity.

Dr. Tong received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, England, and was a NATO Research Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

Dr. Tong serves as a technical advisor to a number of companies, and provides expert technical assessments to support investment and M&A decisions. Dr. Tong has published extensively and is currently a member of the TREC Program Committee.

Dr. Walt Warnick is Director of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI); he directs the agency’s scientific and technical information operations. Dr. Warnick embraces the opportunities offered by the web to accelerate the spread of knowledge about science and technology. To this end, he has championed aggressive efforts to capitalize on technological advances to develop and provide state-of-the art products and services for sharing knowledge. Dr. Warnick and his colleagues continuously work to further advance web search technology.

Dr. Warnick was elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2005 “for leadership in the federal scientific information community and for contributions to the conceptualization, development and implementation of innovative programs that significantly advance access to government information.” He earned his Ph.D. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland and his Bachelor of Engineering Science from The Johns Hopkins University.


RUSQ (The Reference & User Services Quarterly journal) has published an article: Student Feedback on Federated Search Use, Satisfaction, and Web Presence: Qualitative Findings of Focus Groups. Here’s a piece of the introduction:

Illinois State University’s Milner Library conducted focus groups in the summer and fall of 2007 as part of its user-centered approach to implementing a federated search engine. The feedback supplemented the comments from usability testing conducted in the summer of 2006. The purpose of the focus groups was to learn about students’ use of and satisfaction with the federated search engine and to gather their ideas on how to incorporate it into the library website.

I’m always delighted to discover articles about how federated search is used and received so I consider this article, published in 2009, to be a good find. The PDF version of the article is nine pages long, long enough to be substantial yet short enough to be an easy read.

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