Monday, April 5, 2010

Improving Intranet Search with Starring

At the start of March Google added the ability to star search results. I think this interesting idea may have applications for intranets, allowing faster, better searches and improved content discovery through social bookmarking.  These are all good things for improving the value of the intranet.

For those unfamiliar with how his feature works, when you launch a Google Search you now see unfilled stars next to each result:
Google search results now include the option to star results
If you click one of these unfilled stars, you 'star' the result, which means that when you repeat the same or a similar query, you see starred results at the top of the page:
Starred results appear at the top of the results page. I am not sure why my starred result is duplicated here. Google?

Behind the scenes Google also adds the starred item to your Google Bookmarks, an obscure service which has been around for a while which does not rate a mention even from the Google More Products page. The Bookmarks services allows you to collect links and categorise them into one or more lists, which you can then go on to share.

The benefits of this facility to star results of web search seem obvious. I can remember many times I have sifted a few good results from bad ones. These results are perhaps not bookmark-worthy but none-the-less I often need to revisit them. Starring results within Google is an easy and costless way to do this.

It occurs to me this is also an interesting feature for an intranet. Google and many other web search providers are already excellent search engines, built for the endless supply of content the internet provides. Intranet search can be more of a challenge. There is nowhere near the amount of content and cross-linking that forms the basis of PageRank and lexical and linguistic analysis is often not up to date with the state of the art.

A starring feature on an intranet search facility could be implemented to provide a number of benefits.

  • Search performance on a single user's common searches could be improved, as per Google's implementation. Crafting intranet search queries is subtly different from web searches, sometimes requiring broader terms or attention to the company's domain vocabulary. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand when an item of interest does not exist or simply has not been found by the specific search query being used. For this reason, decreasing the amount of time to return to an item of known value could be more useful on the intranet than on the broader internet. 
  • Unlike the World Wide Web, the intranet has a homepage that will always receive traffic. The starred results (or bookmarks) could be floated and accessible from - or close to - the home page of the user who starred them. They may never need to search for that item again. 
  • The act of starring a piece of content could be a strong signal of value which can be factored in to search weightings for that particular content. This would improve every user's search experience.
  • Finally, this interface could form the basis of or complement an existing enterprise social bookmarking application (like IBM's Dogear project). Aided by an understanding of the team and role relationships within an organisation, a clever intranet could use the knowledge of starred items to aid in the content discovery process of colleagues in the same position or team. 
You could view this starring facility as an aid to search, bookmarking, social bookmarking or team collaboration. The reality is that your mileage would vary with the implementation. I think it would be very interesting to see an implementation like I describe in action. 

Does the idea of bringing starred search results into the intranet sound workable? Has it already been done? What if anything would you do to improve it? I am interested to hear what anyone thinks on the topic. 

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