A recent post on a popular taxonomy community website asked for examples of websites that use a thesaurus. The writer was seeking sites that show the user that a thesaurus is being used to direct them from a query word to a taxonomy term. She was looking for a way to support searchers on a company by translating search queries that may be synonyms to terms in their large product taxonomy to deliver content indexed with the preferred term. She also questioned whether the redirection from a query word to a taxonomy term would be clear and intuitive for the searcher.

I am surprised by the sparsity of responses. As I write, there was a suggestion to check out PubMed, which uses MeSH and displays terms relevant to a search, and another response that mentioned query redirection and expansion without examples. No mention of underlying software that can deliver the result.

The MediaSleuth site demonstrates exactly the features the writer wants. MediaSleuth is the e-commerce side of NICEM, the National Information Center for Educational Media (www.nicem.com). It relies on the NICEM thesaurus for indexing all content. The MediaSleuth site displays the full thesaurus as an interactive navigable hierarchy for a searcher to browse and understand the topics covered. Along with search results for a selected category, it displays concepts/terms to expand or target the search, drawing on the underlying thesaurus.

The MediaSleuth site also offers a search box with auto-completion: as a searcher types a query, a list of thesaurus terms and synonyms matching the query is revealed. This expands the searcher’s awareness of the controlled vocabulary for the site and lets the searcher simply click on a term that works. Non-matches are treated as free text search.

The results page not only delivers precise content but also displays thesaurus terms to expand or target a search. These features draw directly on the thesaurus term, showing its Related Terms and Narrower Terms and enabling the searcher to click to explore contents of those categories. 

Interesting to see…but equally important is to understand how this happens. It is Data Harmony software paired with a search engine. Thesaurus Master manages the vocabulary, including the valuable Synonym (non-preferred term) entries, Related Terms, and of course Narrower Terms. For NICEM and the MediaSleuth site, content is captured in Data Harmony’s XIS and categorized using M.A.I. The presentation happens with the coordination of a search engine such as Lucene or, for powering through huge volumes of content, Perfect Search. 

Et voilà!

Challenge met, problem solved, searcher informed and happy with full thesaurus-based results. 

Alice Redmond-Neal
Chief Taxonomist, Access Innovations, Inc.