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Engineering Village 2 Upgrade

:: Engineering Information released its latest upgrades to Engineering Village 2 last week, on January 13th, 2005. The major enhancement was the introduction of Easy Search with faceted searching features. Easy Search presents the user with a small, single search box, similar to other search engines, with no options for limiting or qualifying your search. From the EV2 Help window:

Easy search is designed for very simple basic keyword searching. Search terms are entered into a single search box. Easy Search searches all databases your institution may subscribe to without limits applied.

Enter search terms in the search box. A search is performed on all indexed fields of all subscribed bibliographic databases, including Compendex, Engineering Index Backfile, Inspec, Inspec Archive, and NTIS. No limits are placed on the search.
Having tried a few search strategies on Easy Search (ES), I can say that generally, with some reservations, I like it, especially the faceted search function. As noted, when you begin a search on the ES page, you are presented with no options, only the search box, and tabs to other EV2 functions, like Quick Search and Expert Search. (The page appears to be almost blank, perhaps an intentional presentation by the EV2 staff. The user, with no options before the search, can only type the search question, and is offered a multitude after the search begins.) The user types in the term or phrase, and clicks on "Search". A link to Help is provided, which opens up a different window, and goes to the section of the Help page quoted above. Oddly enough, no explanation of the faceted search function is provided. My reaction is that perhaps Ei felt that an explanation might be too much information for the user, and lead to some confusion. Instead, let the user experience faceted searching without knowing that's what it's called.

On the results screen, records appear in citation format. The option to remove duplicates is available, as is the option to view the results from any one of the databases searched, i.e., if you wish to view the results from Compendex only, the option is there. Results are returned in relevance order, with other sorting options being date, author, source and publisher. New to EV2 is the aforementioned faceted searching - a right side column appears on the ES results screen, offering a array of options for further refining of search results. Categories include database, author, controlled vocabulary, classification code, document type, language, year, and publisher.

Once you choose an option from the Refine Results column, a "search path" is created, or as Ei calls it, a "breadcrumb" above the search results, which limits your search by combining the breadcrumb with your original results. In this example, I searched the phrase "hydrocarbon catalytic cracking". I restricted the search to results from Compendex, and chose "zeolites" and "paraffins" to further refine the search. The search path appears in ES as: [x]hydrocarbon catalytic cracking > [x]Compendex > [x]Zeolites > [x]Paraffins. Results were reduced to 23 records, a very manageable set. To eliminate a term, click on the red x, to the left of each term. Click on the term or phrase itself, and all subsequent terms are removed from the search path.


refine3.jpg



Faceted searching provides the user with the option to "dynamically navigate content", as described by Rafael Sidi, VP Publishing. The option to refine one's search with controlled vocabulary terms is a great feature - users may refine their searches with established and relevant subject terms from the Ei thesaurus (and the Inspec thesaurus, etc.) Without necessarily knowing they are doing so, users are creating a narrower but more relevant literature search result. The challenge to librarians is to get the word out to our users and encourage them to try it, and provide feedback. Well done, Ei!

Regarding "Relevance", or the option to sort results by relevancy, I have never been a fan of this feature, primarily because I could never find an explanation for what it meant on any database that offered it. However, EV2 does provide an explanation of their algorithm:

The relevance sort is based on an algorithm that takes into account the following:
  • Whether the words are found as an exact phrase or separately
  • When words are found separately, closer proximity ranks higher
  • The number of times that the word/phrase appears in the record
  • The word's location within the document (words found at the beginning of the field rank higher than words found towards the end)
  • Whether the words are found within fields designated as particularly relevant, i.e., the title field
  • How often the word appears in the database as a whole (words used often are less relevant than words that are less common)
With a better understanding of the algorithm used, I am more inclined at this point to give the benefit of the doubt to sorting results by relevance. I will try a few searches, and see where it goes. My experience is that researchers most often want the newest results, rather than one from 14 years ago that happens to include exactly the phrases and terms they just searched.

At long last, the ability to truncate to a single character, using the "?" symbol, is now available (*applause*)! Other new features that add to the integrity of the product include the elimination of drop-down menus, and the ability to resort from the results page, both welcomed enhancements.

As for a few reservations, I will qualify that here. These are a few suggested changes I'd like to see implemented, or at least considered, for future EV2 enhancements:
  1. Extend the faceted search function to Quick and Expert Search modes. (This is coming!)
  2. Allow the user to switch display formats without having to choose individual citations, or all on the page. Let the option default to the entire set if none is chosen.
  3. The "Refine Search" option needs, well, to be refined further, and I am not referring to the faceted search column that appears on the ES page. Within the ES results page, the user can click on "Refine Search". However, the search box is even smaller than the one first seen by the user choosing ES - it is approximately 25 characters wide. Click on "Refine Search", and your initial search query reappears in this smaller window. Add a search term or phrase, and you cannot read your entire search strategy, because it won't fit in the window. This isn't a big deal, but it would make search refining a little easier if the user could see what was being added.
  4. Provide a link to the explanation of "Relevance", whenever this option is available to the user. A better understanding of its meaning may encourage its use.
  5. Regarding Search History, the only option at the moment is to clear every query in the set - if you have 20 search statements, they all stay or they all go. The option to clear selected statements would help searchers when refining a strategy.
I'm exhausted, and I have a session in one hour with 60 graduate students in Engineering Management. They will get a brief look at Easy Search. Wish me luck.

POSTSCRIPT: It's Friday morning, 21 Jan 2005. Yesterday evening I presented an information resources session to graduate students in Engineering Management, and highlighted the new ES and faceted search function of EV2. The class was impressed, and a number of students mentioned they would try using it in the near future.

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