Open Education search

Posted on September 5, 2007

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As some of you might remember, I put together www.museumcollections.org.uk a while back to demonstrate what could be done for collections searching with next to no cash (a fiver to register a domain), time (20 mins, tops) or effort (cut and paste). Underneath this is Google coop, an implementation of the big G’s search engine which lets you search across multiple websites. In this particular example, I added a bunch of domains or sub-domains featuring museum collections and also asked people (so far about 20) to contribute if they wanted to add further domains to the list.

lost?O’Reilly radar posted last week about Open Education Search, a collaboration to “build a web search portal dedicated to open educational resources“. There is more about the project on this later post, but it looks as if it will make extensive use of Custom Search, another offering in the bewildering array of free search services provided by Google.

For me, the interesting thing about using Google coop is that it places the bar for cross-domain collections searching, and automatically challenges any institutions considering the various approaches favoured in the past (such as, for instance, Z39.50), to come up with something better.

There have been rumblings in the pipeline for as long as I can remember about a national (or international) search engine for museum collections. Pretty much everyone agrees we’re in a ridiculous place right now: you have to know which institution to go to in the first place to then do the searching for the thing you’re interested in. There is no central place for finding all the Babbage-related collections on the web, for example, except for – oh, hang on – Google.

“…wait!…” shout the hardcore metadata types, “…Google apps doesn’t provide our users with the granularity they require: we need it to be better!”

Well, here’s a proposed solution to that problem: instead of a bunch of museums getting together and spending the next five years (and equivalent vast sums of money) arguing about standards, interoperability etc, before eventually self-imploding and deciding it’s all too much like hard work, how about we club together and buy a Google Enterprise or two (~£15k education price, I believe) and point it at each of the collections websites. Tweak the results, pay a designer £5k for the end result, buy a domain?

I’m being slightly fatuous (imagine!) but there’s a serious point here: Google does search really, really well, so why not use it? Yes, it’s “brute force” searching, but nothing – nothing – has come even close yet to doing it better. This is a perfection gene issue: I vote for cheap, cheerful and 90% perfect (and actually getting it done) rather than 99% perfect and still being here, £3m worse off and with nothing else to show in a few years time.

So. Anyone got £15k?

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