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Search gets smarter

"We wanted an intuitive search interface that supported user-driven discovery," says Tim Haas, product manager for Search 2.0. "Another need we identified was to be able to search across our content and the company's own content, as well as across both structured and unstructured data." That allows, for example, search results for information about a target company to be blended with information from the searcher's CRM application into a single view.

Search 2.0 was designed for the business user (e.g. marketing manager, consultant, executive). Factiva developed it with a role-sensitive approach--working closely with target users to understand how they use business information. For example, a salesperson searching on Microsoft would see other companies mentioned in the news with Microsoft—that might indicate potential new business opportunities. An investment banker looking at Microsoft would be interested in those related companies as they potentially indicate an acquisition target.

New ways of visualizing the results were incorporated into the search technology. For example, the number of references to a company name can be shown in a graph that stretches over a 90-day period. If there is a spike in a particular week, the user can click on the spike and see all the articles that contributed to that week's references.

"In some cases," continues Haas, "the way articles cluster is as informative as the content of the articles."

Searching by proficiency

Role-based delivery of information is a central component for users of Enigma, which provides documentation support to service technicians for equipment maintenance and repair.

"Understanding the context in which the user is performing the search and delivering information with all the hyperlinks in place makes the process much more efficient," says John Snow, VP of marketing and business development at Enigma. For example, at Japan Airlines, maintenance workers use Enigma to minimize downtime by reducing the search time to obtain information about parts and service for their aircraft. The parts catalog is integrated into maintenance manuals, eliminating the possibility of human error in ordering the right part for a repair.

The experience level of a service technician can be used as a filter for search results. "In a military repair crew, different team members might be working on a piece of equipment like a heavy truck," says Snow. "When users log in to the system, the system knows their level of proficiency, and when they search, it delivers information appropriate to their experience level."

A beginner would receive more detailed information after a search than would a more seasoned technician. The goal of Enigma's system is to make all the required information no more than a link away from the user, so that only one search is needed.

Concept searching

EBSCO Publishing provides online information resources for users in academic, medical, corporate and government environments. A wide variety of journals are presented in collections geared toward specific interests. For example, the International Security and Counter-Terrorism Reference Center database provides information for analysts and risk management professionals. It serves as a one-stop repository for government reports, periodicals and news feeds on the topic.

Recently, EBSCO teamed with Content Analyst to offer a new service, Executive Daily Brief (EDB), which is built on EBSCO's premium business content, drawn from its extensive content repository. EDB allows a user to search by entering a phrase, paragraph or even cut and paste an entire article (or an e-mail, Web site text or other document) into the search interface. EDB then locates content that relates to the search terms, working with both concepts and keywords. It can also be directed to content outside the EBSCO databases, including corporate documents, intranet sites and RSS feeds. Behind the scenes, Content Analyst is creating concepts against which the target text is matched.

"We wanted to incorporate a search technology into our EDB offering that was highly sophisticated, yet could be used by individuals who were not information specialists," says Joe Tragert, director of market development at EBSCO. "These days, corporate searches do not always involve librarians or other search experts, and the average user is not familiar with thesauri and taxonomies."

The system lets users establish their own folder structure, to organize information in a customized way. It also learns as more searches are carried out, so that results become increasingly refined. A significant value of concept searching is that searchers do not need to use exactly the same terminology to arrive at the same content. The specific phrasing becomes less important, while the underlying ideas take precedence. 

(((Audio search)))

Evidence of the increasing sophistication of search technology is apparent in the audio search solution from Nexidia. Unlike other audio search tools, which require the intermediate step of a transcript that is then searched as text, Nexidia operates by searching for phonemes in the audio itself.

Audio searching has become more critical with the proliferation of conversation recording from customers at call centers, brokerages and other settings. But the process of transcribing and searching is relatively slow and not always accurate.

"Nexidia renders audio searchable at a rate 55 times faster than the words were spoken," says Anna Convery, senior VP of marketing and product management, "vs. a four-times real-time speed for transcription." More importantly, the accuracy is higher, because some search terms, such as names, might not be found in a transcription dictionary.

Using Nexidia, companies can quickly search their customer support lines to see if keywords like "frustrated" are popping up, whether competitors' products are being mentioned or whether customer service representatives (CSR) are complying with regulations.

"We can also check out call center ‘floor lore,' to verify or disprove rumors about CSR behavior," says Convery, "such as using inappropriate language."

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