For teachers, students, and librarians, the ability to locate high-quality, relevant information about a particular topic quickly and easily is critical. This ability might be greatly enhanced by a new search engine technology from iXMatch Inc. that combines the best of meta-searches and clustering to deliver search results from a district’s own library resourcesas well as external subscription databases, web sites, and web search enginesin a single step, all grouped according to category.
“School districts are investing in high-quality resourcesdatabases, cataloged web site collections, online references, magazines, and booksbut unless students can access all of them without difficulty, those resources go to waste,” said Jim Zicarelli, chief executive officer of Sagebrush Corp.
Sagebrush has released a new search tool, called Pinpoint, that is based on the iXMatch technology. Pinpoint gathers, evaluates, ranks, and reports the most relevant results from multiple sources. Because it’s web-based, students can access results from anywhere, at any time.
The search tool reportedly supports databases from Bigchalk, EBSCO, Gale Group, Grolier Online, H.W. Wilson, NewsBank, and ProQuest, and it also can accommodate others upon request. Pinpoint does not include the cost of these resources; schools would still have to subscribe to each one separately, said Bret A. Busse, technology and marketing director for iXMatch.
“The big difference is that this is a web-based search engine that can search not just the district’s library or web site or intranet. It also can search the web, too, like Google.com or Encyclopedia Britannica,” Busse said.
With Pinpoint, the company says, students can better manage information overload and more easily navigate through search results by selecting relevant content groups, because it clusters the results into sub-groups based on context.
For example, if you typed in the search term “mercury,” it would group the results into topics such as Mercury the planet, Mercury the Greek god, mercury the element, Mercury Theater, Mercury the car, and so on, instead of returning an unordered hodgepodge of resources.
Pinpoint clusters the search results using a proprietary technology from iXMatch. “It takes all the resulting documents that come back, looks at all the words in the document, and then dynamically forms groups of documents that are similar based on words that are in them,” Busse said.
The search term “apple” is another good example, Busse said: “You get one set [of results] about Apple Computer, one set about recipes, one set about the Big Apple, meaning New York City.”
Another interesting feature of Pinpoint is that it reportedly can search for age-appropriate material. At the beginning of a search, a user self-selects whether it is a grade school, junior high, high school, or adult search.
Over time, for each search term, the search engine analyzes what resources are most useful based on how often and by which age group they are accessed. “If it turns out most kids click on Grolier versus something else, the search engine learns from that,” Busse said. “It learns the relationship between the user’s level, what’s being searched, and what’s being used.”
Pinpoint does not act as a content filter, but it does come with a standard list of useful web sites that schools can customize.
“The concept that students can search … the open web, the subscription databases, and local content to harvest information is a good idea,” said Kathy Schrock, technology coordinator for the Nauset Public Schools in Orleans, Mass., who admits she has not been impressed with clustering search engines in the past.
Clustering search engines, depending on the algorithm used, can inhibit the quality of the search because they might inadvertently bury essential, relevant information, she saidbut this concept has potential.
“A meta-search tool such as this one could give [students] the overview of what is available on the web and in the subscription databases, thus allowing them to easily compare, contrast, and critically evaluate information,” Schrock said.