Integrating Google Site Search into SilverStripe

SilverStripe is an excellent, user-friendly content management system but its internal search functionality is, to put it kindly, useless. Fortunately with Google Site Search you can embed a Google-powered custom search engine into your SilverStripe site. Doing so requires a paid Site Search account, pricing for which starts at $100/year.

This tutorial explains how to integrate this Google Site Search XML feed into your SilverStripe site. Doing so has a number of benefits over the standard means of integrating Site Search, namely:

  • No Javascript is required to display results within the SilverStripe site.
  • The user is not taken to a separate, Google operated website to view results.
  • The look and feel is consistent with the rest of the SilverStripe site.
  • Multiple Site Search engines can be integrated into a single SilverStripe site.
  • Site Search results pages are integrated into SilverStripe's management console.

Note: To integrate Site Search into SilverStripe using the described method a Site Search plan must be purchased as this provides results in XML. The free, advertising supported, Site Search engine does not provide search results in XML and cannot be used.

Autodesk Seek gets a new look and more content

Autodesk has not yet abandoned their web-based services endeavours in spite of a wilting construction industry and sinking global economy. Just prior to Autodesk University 2008 their Seek service received a significant makeover. Now this week it was announced BIMWorld has been acquired by Autodesk so that its BIMLibrary catalogue can be folded into Seek's. These events all sound good on paper, but how do they stack up, and more importantly is this a step forward for the Seek service?

The new user interface

The old white on black style of Seek has disappeared in favour of pastels on white. Overall this is a welcome change, but more importantly the overall appearance has been tidied up, with more attention paid to the rendering of onscreen elements. The result still feels very database-driven, but compared to the previous interface it does have a better flow and a less haphazard look. The Javascript-based Yahoo! User Interface library has been used to good effect and overall it feels very snappy. Unfortunately under this new coat of paint some things have not changed, for example the URIs for each product are shockingly bad. The option to email a link of the product has improved, but most people are used to simply copying and pasting URLs from the browser. If Autodesk expect others to link to content they need to resolve this problem. Until then it is very difficult for people to collaborate using Seek as a point of reference.

Autodesk Seek steps towards ubiquitous AEC search

Note: Before reading this critque I would recommend checking out this Autodesk Seek presentation as it answers many of the questions raised here.

In May Autodesk released a beta of Autodesk Seek, a web-based Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) specific, 3D model and specifications search tool. Rather than a free for all model index in a similar guise to Google's 3D Warehouse or CADoogle, the service is focused on exposing the model and specification catalogues of AEC suppliers. This is hardly going to interest the armchair designer, but for architects and engineers the ability to quickly locate, access and reference specifications and 3D data could potentially reduce design development time and costs significantly.

Gauging by the initial contents of Seek it would appear Autodesk have partnered with some large U.S. suppliers in order to kick-start their index. Whilst the index signals a clear sign of intent its current contents is hardly awe inspiring. That being said raw index size itself does not ensure success, to really make a mark and stand the test of time the Seek team need to execute on three things:

  • Quickly build out this index with up to date and relevant content so that it becomes the first place AEC professionals head to.
  • Create a compelling user experience which overcomes the idea that a specifications catalogue must be dull, unhelpful and always two months out of date.
  • Work to integrate Seek into as many aspects of Autodesk's existing modeling and drafting tools. By doing so the line between desktop and Web will be blurred and Seek will become a natural extension of their professional digital toolset.

What differentiates Seek from the crowd?

The idea of an online product catalogue for AEC specifications is certainly not new. However Seek is unique in that it is the first online product catalogue backed by a large company who's primary customer-base is not AEC suppliers. In the past online AEC catalogue initiatives have been spearheaded by suppliers or third-parties financially dependent on these suppliers. This close association has hindered growth and because for a Web-based, universal product catalogue to be successful it must stand independently from its data suppliers. This independence establishes trust which is important because users do not want the relevancy of their search influenced by who is paying the bills, nor do they want a 'walled garden' where only products from selected (paying) suppliers are on show. Consequently even though many supplier-backed catalogues exist, none can be considered the Google of the AEC world.

Seek has the potential of filling this 'Google' void because Autodesk's primary income is from people who make material purchasing decisions (architects, engineers and contractors, etc.) and not the suppliers themselves. This difference places Seek in the position of being able to design a catalogue that acts in the best interests of the search consumer. At the same time suppliers are practically forced to take part given Autodesk's vast global audience. The challenge facing Seek it is that Autodesk are not known for producing search indexes or successful Web products.

So given this background and the potential rewards on offer what works and what doesn't in this early beta release? Let's take a look...

Swoogle semantic search

Swoogle is a semantic search engine project by the Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Maryland. They have taken a useful approach by ripping off Google's interface so that new users understand how to use the tool from the very beginning. Unfortunately the major limiting factor of the experience seems to be the results page. Rather than creating human readable snippets of information below each of the links the results simply output a snippet of the RDF code from the returned file. RDF is difficult for computers to understand so asking people to make sense of a brief quote is expecting the possible. As a consequence it is difficult to meaningfully interrogate the results in order to find content that is most relevant to you, in fact in practice the value of the returned results seems almost zero.