CIKM 2011 Industry Event: David Hawking on Search Problems and Solutions in Higher Education

This post is part of a series summarizing the presentations at the CIKM 2011 Industry Event, which I chaired with former Endeca colleague Tony Russell-Rose.

One of the recurring themes at the CIKM 2011 Industry Event was that not all search is web search. Stephen Robertson, in advocating why recall matters, noted that web search was exceptional rather than typical as an information retrieval domain. Khalid Al-Kofahi on spoke about the challenges of legal search. Focusing on a different vertical, Funnelback Chief Scientist David Hawking spoke about “Search Problems and Solutions in Higher Education“.

David spent most of the presentation focusing on work that Funnelback did for the Australian National University. Funnelback was originally developed by CSIRO and the ANU under the name Panoptic.

The ANU has a substantial web presence, comprised of hundreds of sites and over a million pages. Like many large sites, it suffers from propagation delay: the most important pages are fresh, but material on the outposts can be stale. Moreover, there is broad diversity of authorship.

The university also has a strong editorial stance for ranking search results: the search engine needs to identify and favor official content. Given the proliferation of unofficial content, it can be a challenge to identify official sites based on signals like incoming link count, click counts, and the use of official style templates.

David described a particular application that Funnelback developed for ANU: a university course finder. The problem is similar to that of ecommerce search and calls for similar solutions, e.g., faceted search, auto-complete, and suggestions of related queries. And, just as in ecommerce, we can evaluate performance in terms of conversion rate.

David ended his talk by touching on expertise finding (a problem I think about a lot as a LinkedIn data scientist!) and showing demos. And, while I no longer work in enterprise search myself, I still appreciate its unique challenges. I’m glad that David and his colleagues are working to overcome those challenges, especially in a domain as important as education.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.