New look for the GSA-powered file share search at Implement Consulting Group

The file share search on Implement Consulting Group’s intranet is driven by a Google Search Appliance (GSA). Recently, with help from Findwise, the search interface was given a new look, that integrates more seamlessly with the overall design of the intranet.

GSA comes with a default search interface similar to the search. The interface is easy to customize from GSA’s administrative interface, however, some features are simply not customizable by clicking around. Therefore, GSA supports the editing of an XSLT file for customizing the search. GSA returns the search results in XML format, and by processing this file with XSLT we can customise how the search results look and behave.

Custom CSS and JavaScript was used for integrating GSA’s search functionalities in the look and feel of the intranet. Implement’s new intranet is based on and the design was delivered by

— And here is the search results page with a new look:


The new look of the search results page on Implement Consulting Group’s Google Search Appliance powered search

Design Principles for Enterprise Search – The Philosophy of UX

In May I attended An Event Apart in Boston (AEA). AEA is a 2-day (design) conference for people who working with websites and was created by the father of web design Jeffrey Zeldman and the CSS guru Eric Meyer. The conference has a broad perspective, dealing with everything from how to write CSS3 and HTML5 to content strategy and graphic design. This post is about an AEA topic brought up by Whitney Hess: Create design principles and use them to establish a philosophy for the user experience.

Hess wants to create universal principals for user experience to communicate a shared understanding amongst team members and customers and to create a basis for an objective evaluation. The principles suggested by Hess are listed below along with examples of how these can relate to search and search user interfaces.

Stay out of people’s way

When you do know what people want stay out of their way

Google knows what to do when people visit their search at They get out of the way and make it easy to get things done. The point is not to disturb users with information they do not need, including everything from modal popup windows or to many settings.

Create a hierarchy that matches people’s needs

Give crucial elements the greatest prominence

This means that the most used information should be easy to find and use. A classic example is that on most university webpages – it is almost impossible to find contact details to faculty members or campus address but very easy to find a statement of the school philosophy. But the former is probably what users mostly will try to find.

university website -

Limit distractions

This principle means that you should design for consecutive tasks and limit related information to the information you know would help the user with her current task. Don’t include related information in a search user interface just because you can if the information does not add value.

Provide strong information scent

There should be enough information in search results for users to decide if results are relevant. In an e-commerce site this would be the difference between selling and not selling. A search result will not be perceived as cluttered if the correct data is shown.

Provide signposts and cues

Always make it clear how to start a new search, how to apply filters and what kind of actions can be applied to specific search results.

Provide context

Let the user know that there are different kinds of search result. Display thumbnails for pictures and videos or show msn availability in people search.

Use constraints appropriately

Prevent errors before they happen. Query suggestion is a good way as it helps users correct spelling error before they happen. This saves time and frustration for the user.

Make actions reversible

Make it obvious how to removes filters or reset other settings.

Provide feedback

Interaction is a conversation so let the user know when something happens or when the search interface fetches new search results. Never let the user guess what happens.

Make a good first impression

You only have one time to make a first impression. It is therefore important to spend time designing the first impression of any interface. Always aim to make the experience for new users better. This could mean voluntary tutorials or fun and good-looking welcome messages.

So now what?

Are universal principles enough? Probably not. Every project and company is different and need their own principles to identify with. Hess ended her presentation with tips on how to create company principles to complement the universal principles. Maybe there will be future blog posts about creating your own design principles.

So what are your company’s principles?

Enterprise Search and Business Intelligence?

Business Intelligence (BI) and Enterprise Search is a never ending story

A number of years ago Gartner coined “Biggle” – which was an expression for BI meeting Google. Back then a number of BI vendors, among them Cognos and SAS, claimed that they were working with enterprise search strategically (e.g. became Google One-box partners). Search vendors, like FAST, Autonomy and IBM also started to cooperate with companies such as Cognos. “The Adaptive Warehouse” and “BI for the masses” soon became buzzwords that spread in the industry.

The skeptics claimed that enterprise search never would be good at numbers and that BI would never be good with text.

Since then a lot a lot has happened and today the major vendors within Enterprise Search all claim to have BI solutions that can be fully integrated (and the other way around – BI solutions that can integrate with enterprise search).

The aim is the same now as back then:  to provide unified access to both structured (database) and unstructured (content) corporate information. As FAST wrote in a number of ‘Special Focus’:

“Users should have access to a wide variety of data from just one, simple search interface, covering reports, analysis, scorecards, dashboards and other information from the BI side, along with documents, e-mail and other forms of unstructured information.”

And of course, this seems appealing to customers. But does access to all information really make us more likely to take the right decisions in terms of Business Intelligence. Gartner is in doubt.

Nigel Rayner, research vice president at Gartner Inc, says that:

”The problem isn’t that they (users) don’t have access to information or tools; they already have too much information, and that’s just in the structured BI world. Now you want to couple it with unstructured data? That’s a whole load of garbage coming from the outside world”.

But he also states that search can be used as one part of BI:

“Part of the problem with traditional BI is that it’s very focused on structured information. Search can help with getting access to the vast amount of structured information you have”

Looking at the discussions going on in forums, in blogs and in the research domain most people seem to agree with Gartner’s view: enterprise search and business intelligence makes a powerful combination, but the integrations needs to be made with a number of things in mind:

Data quality

As mentioned before, if one wants to make unstructured and structured information available as a complement to BI it needs to be of a good quality. Knowing that the information found is the latest copy and written by someone with knowledge of the area is essential. Bad information quality is a threat to an Enterprise Search solution, to a combined BI- and search solution it can be devastating. Having Content Lifecycles in place (reviewing, deleting, archiving etc) is a fundamental prerequisite.

Data analysis

Business Intelligence in traditionally built on pre-thought ideas of what data the users need, whereas search gives access to all information in an ad-hoc manner. To combine these two requires a structured way of analyzing the data. If the unstructured information is taken out of its context there is a risk that decisions are built on assumptions and not fact.

BI for the masses?

The old buzzwords are still alive, but the question mark remains. If one wants to give everyone access to BI-data it has to be clear what the purpose is. Giving people a context, for example combining the latest sales statistics with searches for information about the ongoing marketing activities serves a purpose and improves findability. Just making numbers available does not.

enterprise search and business intelligence dashboard

Business intelligence and enterprise search in a combined dashboard – vision or reality within a near future?

So, to conclude: Gartner’s vision of “Biggle” is not yet fulfilled. There are a number of interesting opportunities for the business to create findability solutions that combines business intelligence and enterprise search, but the strategies for adopting it needs to be developed in order to create the really interesting cases.

Have you come across any successful enterprise search and business intelligence integrations? What is your vision? Do you think the integration between the two is a likely scenario?

Please let us know by posting your comments.

It’s soon time for us to go on summer vacation.

If you are Swedish, Nicklas Lundblad from Google had an interesting program about search (Sommar i P1) the other day, which is available as a podcast.

Have a nice summer all of you!

Search and Accessibility

Västra Götalands regionen has introduced a new search solution that Findwise created together with Netrelations. Where both search and accessibility is important. We have also blogged about it earlier (see How to create better search – VGR leads the way). One important part of the creation of this solution was to create an interface that is accessible to everyone.

Today the web offers access to information and interaction for people around the world. But many sites today have barriers that make it difficult, and sometimes even impossible for people with different disabilities to navigate and interact with the site. It is important to design for accessibility  – so that no one is excluded because of their disabilities.

Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, interact and contribute to the Web. But web accessibility is not only for people that use screen readers, as is often portrayed. It is also for people with just poor eyesight who need to increase the text size or for people with cognitive disabilities (or sometimes even for those without disabilities). Web accessibility can benefit people without disabilities, such as when using a slow Internet connection, using a mobile phone to access the web or when someone is having a broken arm. Even such a thing as using a web browser without javascript because of company policy can be a disability on the web and should be considered when designing websites.

So how do you build accessible websites?

One of the easiest things is to make sure that the xhtml validates. This means that the code is correct, adheres to the latest standard from W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and that the code is semantically correct i.e. that the different parts of the website use the correct html ”tags” and in the correct context. For example that the most important heading of a page is marked up with ”h1” and that the second most important is ”h2” (among other things important when making websites accessible for people using screen readers).

It is also important that a site can easily be navigated only by keyboard, so that people who cannot use a mouse still can access the site. Here it is important to test in which order the different elements of the web page is selected when using the keyboard to navigate through the page. One thing that is often overlooked is that a site often is inaccessible for people with cognitive disabilities because the site contains content that uses complex words, sentences or structure. By making content less complex and more structured it  will be readable for everyone.

Examples from VGR

In the search application at VGR elements in the interface that use javascript will only be shown if the user has a browser with java script enabled. This will remove any situations where elements do not do anything because java script is turned off. The interface will still be usable, but you will not get all functionality. The VGR search solution also works well with only the keyboard, and there is a handy link that takes the user directly to the results. This way the user can skip unwanted information and navigation.

How is accessibility related to findability?

Search and Accessibility

Accessibility is important for findability because it is about making search solutions accessible and usable for everyone. The need to find information is not less important if you are blind,  if you have a broken arm or if you have dyslexia. If you cannot use a search interface you cannot find the information you need.

“what you find changes who you become” -Peter Morville

In his book Search Patterns Peter Morville visualizes this in the ”user experience honeycomb”. As can been seen in the picture accessibility is as much a part of the user experience as usability or findability is and a search solution will be less usable without any of them.

Faceted Search by LinkedIn

My RSS feeds have been buzzing about the LinkedIn faceted search since it was first released from beta in December. So why is the new search at LinkedIn so interesting that people are almost constantly discussing it? I think it’s partly because LinkedIn is a site that is used by most professionals and searching for people is core functionality on LinkedIn. But the search interface on LinkedIn is also a very good example of faceted search.

I decided to have a closer look into their search. The first thing I realized was just how many different kinds of searches there are on LinkedIn. Not only the obvious people search but also, job, news, forum, group, company, address book, answers and reference search. LinkedIn has managed to integrate search so that it’s the natural way of finding information on the site. People search is the most prominent search functionality but not the only one.

I’ve seen several different people search implementations and they often have a tendency to work more or less like phone books. If you know the name you type it and get the number. And if you’re lucky you can also get the name if you only have the number. There is seldom anyway to search for people with a certain competence or from a geographic area. LinkedIn sets a good example of how searching for people could and should work.

LinkedIn has taken careful consideration of their users; What information they are looking for, how they want it presented and how they need to filter searches in order to find the right people. The details that I personally like are the possibility to search within filters for matching options (I worked on a similar solution last year) and how different filters are displayed (or at least in different order) depending on what query the user types. If you want to know more about how the faceted search at LinkedIn was designed, check out the blog post by Sara Alpern.

But LinkedIn is not only interesting because of the good search experience. It’s also interesting from a technical perspective. The LinkedIn search is built on open source so they have developed everything themselves. For those of you interested in the technology behind the new LinkedIn search I recommend “LinkedIn search a look beneath the hood”, by Daniel Tunkelang where he links to a presentation by John Wang search architect at LinkedIn.

The Future of Information Discovery

I recently attended the third annual workshop on Human Computer Interaction and Information retrieval ( HCIR 2009) in Washington DC together with my colleague Lina. This is the first in a series of blog posts about what happened at the workshop. First up is the keynote about the Future of Information Discovery, by Ben Shneiderman.

Ben Shneiderman, professor at the University of Maryland and founding director of the Human Computer Interaction Laboratory held the workshop keynote. He started off by talking about what he called the elephant in the room, Google. Because whenever you talk about search these days you have to talk about Google. Google has become the baseline for search and the system that users relate other search experiences to. Almost all of our customers’ users has in one way or another asked “why can’t our intranet be more like Google?” (Read more about expectations to Googlify the company in a previous blog post by Mickel. You can also download the slides to Ben Shneidermans keynote presentation.)

As Ben Shneiderman said, Google does actually do the job, finding facts work. However searching for information can be dangerous. Google does well on handling simple fact-finding tasks but we need better tools to handle other types of searches such as:

  • Extended fact finding tasks where the queries are often vague
  • Tasks involving exploration of availability where the requested results can be vague
  • Open ended browsing and problem analysis where there can be hidden assumptions
  • Mismatch between the users information needs and the available metadata which will require exhaustive searching.

One of the points that I appreciated the most in this keynote was that systems that support searching for information not only need to support simple known-item searches, which Google does well. They also need to support other things:

  • Helping users enrich query formulation
  • Expanding result management
  • Enable long-term effort
  • Enhance collaboration

I am especially pleased by this statement since these are some of the important issues that we are working with in our customer projects. You will also learn more about query formulation in one of our upcoming blog posts from HCIR.

Supporting these cases are important for supporting users in their information seeking tasks and, according to Shneiderman, this should also be done while enabling users to deal with specific cases of search, concerning:

  • Completeness – Do I have all the information on a specific topic? This is especially important in for example legal or medical cases.
  • Absence of information – proving non-existence of information is very difficult but needed when applying for a patent or registering a trademark.
  • Outliers – making unexpected connections between information and finding and learning new  things that you would not have expected to find.
  • Bridging – Connecting different disciplines with each other.

This is very important because when users search the goal is not the information itself. No users go to a search interface just for the fun of searching for information. They need the information for a purpose. Search therefore needs to support things such as decision-making, collaboration, innovation and societal improvement. Search will only be of true value to users when it not only searches the simple fact-finding tasks but when it helps users solve the real problems in the real world. And good tools can force people to reframe their thinking and see things in a different light. That is the kind of tools that we should be designing.

SPC09 Day 1 (Las Vegas) – A New Choice in Enterprise Search

Today the initial key notes and session on the Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2009 has begun here in Las Vegas. The conference is fully booked with over 7400 registered attendees and is hosted at the Mandala Bay Hotel. There are over 240 different sessions covering everything within the new version of SharePoint 2010. SharePoint 2010 is schedules to be released during the first half of next year however a public beta will be available now in November. I will try to cover the Enterprise Search perspective of this conference and summarize new features and functions in this blog.

The conference was started up through two key notes held by among others Steve Ballmer (CEO of Microsoft) and Jeff Teper (VP). They introduces new features in SharePoint 2010 on all levels from both really deep technical to end user perspective. Showing a lot of new cool features, where one feature was especially sticking out and that was Search. They all pointed out over and over again the importance of search as the core functionality of everything.

Enterprise Search

My first sessions during this conference was on Enterprise Search and the overview of this. A lot of new concepts and functions are introduced. I will try here to summarize some of the new functions in a list.

Sharepoint 2010 and Search Server 2010 (Not all is supported in Search Server)

  • Wildcard search support
  • Phonetic Spelling on person name searches
  • Partitioned index/query (for scaling purposes)
  • Support for up to 100 Million documents
  • Zero query search – Used for using search as navigation
  • Query Suggestion
  • Refinement from meta data (Shallow navigators)
  • Related Searches
  • Federate Searches with Desktop
  • Rating/Language used for relevance tuning
  • View related content in people search
  • Multiple crawler

FAST Search for SharePoint

  • All above from SharePoint searches (some times they are even supposed to work together like people search is still done through SharePoint search)
  • Visual preview and thumbnails
  • Same APIs as SharePoint
  • All administration is done through SharePoint administration
  • Similar results
  • Deep refinement navigators
  • Entity extraction
  • Visual Best bet
  • Contextual Search
  • No index profile any more. Everything is set through SharePoint administration even Navigators and meta data mappings.
  • Can use BCS for connecting to other systems
  • User context searching. Promote/denote documents and changing relevance after users context
  • New search interface

That was a summary of the new features that is to come. I will come back every day to post updates and more detailed information about these features. To finish of I want to quote Microsoft: This is a quantum leap in Enterprise Search.