By Sue Bushell
CSIRO is predicting a strong future for a new breed of search services for government agencies and small to medium enterprises, based on the application service provider model.
Research engineer Francis Crimmins says the new model which makes its innovative Panoptic enterprise search engine available as a bureau service is attracting interest both locally and internationally.
Panoptic was developed from original research in parallel computing and search algorithms after 10 years of world leading search engine research and evaluation. It employs proven algorithms to deliver highly relevant search results, which it serves up as a unique combination of metadata and full text indexing from a variety of sources. The search engine provides expansive support for queries including full-text, natural, implied boolean, phrase, fielded, word stem and breaking, meta data, wildcard and site specified.
CSIRO says take up of Panoptic has been growing strongly over recent years. It is currently used in more than 50 sites in Australia and the US.
Ineffective online search has been a drag on competitiveness and customer relations for government agencies and private organizations alike, with some industry analysts suggesting large organizations could save millions of dollars a year by providing more effective intranet search tools.
Panoptic as an off-the-shelf product is used by organizations as diverse as the ABC Shop Online, the Australian Antarctic Division and the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care. Under this model organizations pay an annual or perpetual licence and contract for support on an annual basis.
Now operators of smaller Web sites, where a dedicated Panoptic engine would be excessive, can contract for a search bureau service from Panoptic's private sector partners and resellers in which a hosted Panoptic search engine remotely indexes an organization's external Web pages and handles searchers' queries. That's the model under which the Australian government Web site Australia.gov.au, Westpac, ComSuper and a number of other sites are now operating.
Crimmins says to maintain the search services for Australia.gov.au CSIRO'S machines crawl 2.5 million federal Web pages and two million State government Web pages every weekend. By Monday afternoon there is a fresh index available to be searched.
"It's a bureau service so when someone goes to Australia.gov.au and types in a search it goes to one of our machines and we then return a result. What's interesting is that it makes very good use of the Web and people publishing this externally visible content don't have to download any software, or set anything up."
Crimmins says the availability of search engines as a bureau service is a new development in the industry.
"The idea is that we can provide a search service by simply crawling someone's external Web site and downloading the contents onto one of our machines, creating an index. They can then link to that search service from their Web site so that if you go to the ASX or Westpac and type in something in their search box it's actually coming back to one of our machines, generating a results page, which is then displayed to an end user. So for Westpac for example we set up the DNS settings so that an end user doesn't have to know that they're going to a machine outside the Westpac domain which as you would imagine would be an important issue for banks in terms of phishing and fraud and so on."
Crimmins says CSIRO sees is strong future in this bureau service model where governments can very easily get an improvement in search on their external Web service without having to pay for expensive software or get involved in implementation.
Panoptic achieves very high compliance with accessibility guidelines for the Internet and functions on a variety of platforms, conforming to most industry standards.
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