A vision for a new search experience, and beyond…
Back in September 2016, the University initiated a procurement exercise to replace its current central search engine. As we are nearing on deciding the successful vendor, it’s a great time to provide a project review, revisit the vision and explore the opportunities this new search engine will present.
A central web search using Google’s Site Search has been used since 2013. It indexes the full content under all subdomains of ed.ac.uk and other University-affiliated websites, attracting more than 5 million search queries annually. Common search tasks include searching for staff contact details, service information and support, courses or publications.
University audiences aim to complete a wide range of tasks, some of them described above. A combination of content, information and data from several sources assists them in fulfilling their goal successfully. Using the central search facility is one of the main tools to access this information, so improvements in this area can help the overall user experience.
Our vision is to provide a search service that can reach, use, categorise, relate and return all of the content, information and data required to guide the University audiences to fulfil their tasks as quickly and as efficient as possible.
The ultimate search engine would basically understand everything in the world, and it would always give you the right thing. And we’re a long, long ways from that.
Larry Page, Google co-founder.
The following presentation was used at the projects’ requirements gathering workshop:
Following up from a requirements gathering workshop in October 2016, more activities to understand search user behaviour were undertaken by UWP using search analytics and user testing.
A wider stakeholder base was consulted to create the comprehensive Invitation To Tender (ITT) procurement document which included 12 scenarios covering user and service administration tasks. The vendors were evaluated against these requirements and costs, following procurement policies.
Opportunities and next steps
The decision to procure a replacement solution was quickly recognised as an opportunity to explore how this could align with other strategic priorities. During the evaluation of the submitted proposals, it was obvious that modern search technologies have gone further than returning indexed web content results based on search queries to incorporate further content sources, build complex relationship structures using multiple data collections and return categorised results against sophisticated filters.
After completing the procurement, an implementation project will take over to incorporate a solution within year 2017/18. The main areas of focus for this project and future enhancements will be:
- Replacing the current search facility, at the latest by end of March 2018. The minimal viable product will be to provide the existing functionality using the procured solution.
- To facilitate a better search user experience, taking into consideration current behaviours for top search tasks through analytics and user testing.
- Exploring how data sources, e.g. events, staff profiles etc., could be integrated into the search data repository through APIs or other automated mechanisms. This could lead into more comprehensive data collections and, finally, to generate more sophisticated results quicker, e.g. event details and booking links or contact details.
- Making extensive use of metadata, taxonomies or other built-in data structures to categorise content from different sources. For example, University building search results could align with its location in the map, accessibility information and opening hours.
- Including protected content and providing personalised results based on users’ affiliation to the University.