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Search Engines in the fight against Institutional Impecuniousness
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Search Engines in the fight against Institutional Impecuniousness


Plenary talk given by David Hawking at The Institutional Web Management Workshop 2011, held at the University of Reading from Tuesday 26th to Wednesday 27th July 2011.

Plenary talk given by David Hawking at The Institutional Web Management Workshop 2011, held at the University of Reading from Tuesday 26th to Wednesday 27th July 2011.

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  • 40 years in University computing: Student, tutor, manager of student computing facilities, technology evangelist and purchaser, adviser to committees, system administrator, manager, occasional lecturer, academic researcher, supervisor of PhDs, and (finally) add-junk professor. 10 years (overlapping!) as research scientist at CSIRO 5 years (overlapping) as Chief Scientist at Funnelback
  • Universities in the UK have contributed enormously to the country and the worl: Around 200 Nobel Prizes: Radar, jet engines, computing, DNA, crystallography, medicine An educated and tolerant society, Arts, Science, Engineering, Literature, Human Rights, Economics, Politics, Reality TV .... perhaps we should forget the last two!
  • Higher Education in Australia, NZ and the UK is chronically short of funds to maintain the tradition of research excellence, to educate higher proportions of the population, and to provide trained workers for government, industry, business and higher education. In all three countries Universities have turned to fee-paying foreign students to bridge the funding gap. In the process they have contributed mightily to national economies. Governments are increasingly looking to students to fund the cost of their tertiary education and increasing the competition between higher education institutions.


  • 1. IWMW 2011, 26 July 2011 Reading University Search v. Institutional Impecuniousness David Hawking Funnelback
  • 2. Who am I? - 40 years in university computing (ANU). - 10 years (overlapping) in CSIRO - 5 years (overlapping) Funnelback
  • 3. Who are we?
  • 4. Who are you?
  • 5. Who are you?
  • 6. What's all this got to do with Search?
  • 7. HE Institutions are businesses
    • (A) need to maintain and increase revenue
      • Attract more (or brighter) students
      • Attract more (or better) research staff, and consequently more grants and research funding
      • Attract more (or bigger) endowments
      • Attract more (or bigger) industrial partnerships
      • More effective commercialisation of research
    • (B) need to increase staff productivity (without lowering standards).
      • Reduce unnecessary time and effort delivering courses, applying for grants, doing research, undertaking commercialisation.
      • Maximise accessibility of information and online services to all
      • Reduce student enquiry load
  • 8. Areas where effective search can help: revenue side
  • 9. Course Finding
    • e.g City University
    • Query completion demo – UPS
    • Isn't this like e-Commerce?
      • Avoid: There is a course for this student but they didn't find it. (Faceting, Suggestion)
      • Conversion: Found the course -> now enrol
    • Issue: matching careers with courses:
    Barrister LLB Doctor MBBS Webmaster MWeb Lighthouse Keeper ?
  • 10.  
  • 11. Expertise finding
    • e.g Australia's Knowledge Gateway
    • Researchers, Publications, Projects, Theses
    • Can facilitate:
      • Discovery of strengths
      • Attraction of staff
      • Attraction of graduate students
      • Industrial investment
      • Endowments
  • 12.  
  • 13. Image & Marketing
    • Websites are vital to marketing a university.
    • Search is vital to web experience
    • Key differences between universities and corporates. Websites operated by departments may provide critical information but don't (and possibly shouldn't) conform to corporate image. Search can help integrate them.
    • Alerting
  • 14. Business Intelligence
    • What are people searching for on your sites? Are your campaigns working?
  • 15. Areas where effective search can help: productivity side
  • 16. Student enquiry handling
    • Access to course materials
    • Course planning
    • Accommodation
    • Exams
    • Timetable
    • Library
    • email
    • Employment / Careers
  • 17. Video recordings of lectures
  • 18. Staff efficiency
    • Locating policies and procedures
    • Staff directory
    • Access to online services: parking permits, leave forms, study leave applications,
    • Gathering material for grant proposals
    • Finding collaborators
    • Issue: new staff and position handover
    • Issue: search of restricted-access material
    • Issue: academic staff often work remotely, e.g. at home or on important field work …
  • 19.  
  • 20. Search: Issues common to all applications
  • 21. Overcoming poor queries
    • Acomodation or is it accomodation or even accommodation?
      • Autocompletion, did you mean, query blending
    • Computer science or is it Information Technology or informatics?
      • Synonyms, query blending, autocompletion .
    • There's nothing on our site about that! Try the SERC!
      • Best bets
  • 22. Queries whose best answers change
    • 'graduation' may have different best answers at different times of the year
      • Best bets?
  • 23. Tune your ranking
    • How well is your search working?
      • Measure using a test set of queries and right answers
    • How can you improve it?
      • Explore the combinations of SE parameters, measuring performance on the test set. Pick the optimum?
  • 24. LSE Case Study
  • 25. Test set: 134 queries Query Best answer 2 nd best answer ... accommodation … /lifeatLSE/accommodatiaon/accommodationforStudents.aspx accounting … /accounting/Home.aspx anthropology … /anthropology/Home.aspx asia … /collections/asiaResearchCentre/ ba … /study/undergraduate/degreeProgrammes2012.aspx biomedicine … /collections/BIOS/
  • 26. dim2 dim1 1 2 3
  • 27.  
  • 28. Challenges in HE ranking
  • 29. - Hundreds of websites - Up to millions of webpages (what's a webpage?) - Diverse publishing technologies - Corporate branding & messages slow to propagate to the outposts. - Outdated content still present (may be useful) Official web site(s) 100s of less official web sites
  • 30. But search effectiveness is a two-way street: Search and Publishing are in a symbiotic relationship
  • 31. The “Emmottiser”
    • MY page should rank top to this query!
    • Why doesn't it?
    • The Emmottiser in action.
    • Trying not to encourage fruitless arms races
    • Will help external as well as internal search
  • 32. Emmottiser: administrator
  • 33. Emmottiser: content owner
    • The query “inconsequential studies” does not appear as a phrase:
      • Anywhere in your web page
      • In your web page's title
      • In anchor text referrring to your web page
    • Your web page is very long (more than 100,000 words).
    • The query “inconsequential studies” has been submitted 57,307 times but has never resulted in a click on your web page.
    Examples of search-unfriendly publishing which might be detected and for which advice might be given.
  • 34. The accessoriser?
    • Bulk WCAG2 compliance testing and reporting over time can be built into your search tool. (within limits)
    • Accessible web publishing means that ALL students and staff (and other potential stakeholders) can make use of web resources.
    • In Australian government accessible websites have become mandatory.
  • 35.  
  • 36.  
  • 37. Search profiles
    • Prospective student
    • Current student
    • Staff member
    • … .
  • 38. Conclusions
    • A successful search deployment in a university should consider:
      • Search's potential contribution to the business bottom line
      • Effective search's contribution to image and marketing
      • Several business-critical audiences
      • The symbiotic relationship between publishing and search.
      • How to achieve high quality ranking in the heterogeneous, somewhat anarchic world of typical university web domains.
      • Responsive search of restricted-access documents
      • Specialised resources – LMS, video lectures, expertise, research outputs
    • Effective search can make HE institutions more attractive, successful and productive
  • 39. For best results:
    • For best results:
    • the right ingredients
    • proven methods
    • a dash of expertise
    • tasty presentation