As a user, wouldn’t it be fabulous to start typing in a search box and have the topic you’re looking for appear in a list of suggestions? Actually, we’ve already seen that enhancement and it’s pretty great – well at least when what you’re looking for is there. Avoids the dreaded typo or misspelling. What if those suggestions not only returned a comprehensive and relevant set of articles, but also offered other tools to assist in your research?

How about suggestions to broaden your search with topics related to the query you entered? How about suggestions of more specific examples of your query, some you may not have been aware of. What if the search returns page included recent blog, forum, or video postings, case studies, product descriptions, webinars, news items? What about the offer of an expanded search to include a select group of sites of professional organizations, publishers, consultants, or specialized wikis that would include more items tagged with your search query words? Would it help to see from where in the world the latest work has been published? Whether there is an upcoming conference that includes presentations about it? Notes from a panel discussion or presentation held recently? A list of authors who have written about it? Or, others in your organization whose project includes your search query topic as a component?

It’s all possible, and there are examples already of many of these search enhancements, but not all, and not in the useful combination envisioned in your dreams.

Basic requirements for this to happen (and for the semantic web that it naturally leads to) are a taxonomy of query terms (or several mapped to each other), a good automatic categorization engine, some agreement about what metadata to capture and how to store it, and a little coding magic (most of which is still custom).

It’s not here yet. Many of those enhancements would make us users so much more productive, cutting down wasted time and duplication and opening up exciting new possibilities.

We’re going to have to be more assertive about it – looking for content management and portal systems that build in the tools for delivering such search enhancements, working toward standards that make integration and use of content assets easier, letting our imaginations conjure up ways to harness the power of information.

ASIS&T (the American Society for Information Science and Technology) is hosting a series of webinars this coming month on just such imaginings. Access Innovations’ people will present this current series, investigating semantic integration in search, e-commerce, expert directories, and knowledge linkages. You can get more information at the ASIS&T site.

Access Innovations makes software to enable semantic integration, and helps clients envision the ways to make effective use of information assets. 

Mary Garcia
Access Innovations