Search is dead: Long live 'findability'

NASA among agencies making enterprise searches more dynamic, interactive

In the world of search tools, there’s a new buzz phrase: “findability vs. searchability.”

“Search is broken,” said Bob Carter, vice president and general manager of Vivisimo Inc. of Pittsburgh. “Results are not shared, saved or collected. Search technology doesn’t factor in who I am, what I do, where I am or what I know.”

The search experience should not end with just a list of results, said Carter, speaking May 3 at the 2010 Knowledge Management Conference, held by 1105 Government Information Group. 

At the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., officials have embraced the virtues of findability. Two years ago, they implemented Google as their internal and external search engine, said Manjula Ambur, branch head for information management.

“Google has enterprise software you can bring inside the firewall,” she told conferees. “It’s been in operation since May 2008 with no major problems.”

The search engine, featuring a simple, easy-to-use interface, gives Langley scientists and engineers the ability to find the technical information they need to do their work and help NASA Langley meet its mission goals, Ambur said. It provides a unified search of disparate internal and external data sources, including documents, journals, images and books, and puts them together on one page.

When building the tool with Google, officials sought input from Langley users and from NASA security experts “to make sure the firewalls are working the way they should be.”

The tool currently has about 3,000 users who perform about 13,000 searches a month, mostly for technical data. Ambur said Langley’s scientists and engineers like the tool’s Google-like searching, its internal/external data integration, and fast, one-step findability.

To generate user feedback, the tool includes a button labeled, “Did you find what you’re looking for?” which helps officials plan and deploy improvements. Some enhancements in progress include the ability to save and share results and the addition of user-defined key matches, Ambur said.

Langley officials are working with three other NASA centers to take the tool NASA-wide, Ambur said.

About the Author

Richard W. Walker is a freelance writer based in Maryland.

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