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Once Upon a Midnight Query…

It’s sunny today, Palo Alto sunny, warm and beautiful. I’ve been at work since O’dark-thirty, doing the weekly publishing thang, and I’m taking a ginger ale and blogging break for a minute.

Here at My Place Of Work I’ve been dealing with the budget issues–more on that when I have news, assuming it’s the sort of thing I can blog–but I’ve also been plowing ahead with our plans for a new search engine.

(For the non-initiated, it’s not as if I can put MPOW’s technology plans on hold and carry forward the money into next year–it doesn’t work that way. I wrote a grant last year that said we’d do a new search engine this year–meaning in place by June 30–and by golly, so we will. It’s only taken me five years to get to this point…)

Search engine guru Avi Rappoport guided us through setting up search logs for MPOW; then she opened her toolbox and got cracking.

Hidden in the data were many mini-lessons about how our users behave. More about that later, more formally, elsewhere. But the meta-lesson is this: without search analytics, without really good search log reporting, everything we do in terms of user access is a crapshoot. “We” as in you and me and the librarian down the street. Think you know what your users want or how they think or what they do? Or do you realio, trulio, actually, factually, evidence-driven, in-your-brain-and-your-heart, know what your users want or think or do?

I would not have bet that we didn’t have items matching queries for acid rain or peak oil. Even accounting for the metadata mismatch issue–that a site for won’t have all the keywords associated with user behavior–I would have put a fiver on the table that many broad, common terms would be matched. Bye-bye, fiver.

On the bright side, one major impetus for MPOW to change search engines has been to get a product with good analytics–so our priorities have been validated. Up until this week, search log reports were a slightly-qualified “M.” Show me a really good search engine, I thought, and we can talk about whether we do search log analytics as another, external project. Now search log reporting is Mandatory without qualification. A search engine without built-in analytics is like a car without a fuel gage.

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