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(March 21, 2005) - Cluster searching reminds us of the phrase that is a "Military term for an operation in which multiple things have gone wrong". There is a strong relationship between this term and SNAFU or FUBAR. In polite society, a military gentleman might use the term "Charlie Foxtrot" as a replacement. At any rate, our initial experiences with Cluster search have been a Charlie Foxtrot.

Rooted in the Amazon recommendation system, a new version of cluster searching (a la Northern Light) seems to be emerging. Amazon is spreading its wings around the search industry and developing some interesting experiments. We've already covered A9, Amazon's multiple dimension search engine. A9, we noted, creates the opportunity for discovery by co-mingling several kinds of search data (images, lists of books, movies) with some input from your search history.

Cluster searching is an interim move to try to bring personalization into the search result stream. A9 is moving the idea forward with "OpenSearch". "We want OpenSearch to do for search what RSS has done for content." says the front page of A9's introduction to open search.

OpenSearch is a collection of technologies, all built on top of popular open standards, to allow content providers to publish their search results in a format suitable for syndication. You can see how this works on A9.com.

Many sites today return search results as a tightly integrated part of the website itself. Unfortunately, those search results can't be easily reused or made available elsewhere, as they are usually wrapped in HTML and don't follow any one convention. OpenSearch offers an alternative: an open format that will enable those search results to be displayed anywhere, anytime. Rather than introduce yet another proprietary or closed protocol, OpenSearch is a straightforward and backward-compatible extension of RSS 2.0, the widely adopted XML-based format for content syndication.

Any site that has content—and a search box—can choose to return results in OpenSearch RSS. This includes travel sites, classifieds, encyclopedias…. If you can provide search results for something, it probably can fit into the OpenSearch model. Returning OpenSearch results is easy—the format is the standard set of XML elements, plus three additional elements designed to support navigation between pages.

OpenSearch is comprised of:

  1. OpenSearch RSS: XML format for providing open search results.
  2. OpenSearch Description Documents: XML files that identify and describe a search engine.
  3. OpenSearch Aggregators: Sites, such as A9.com, that can display OpenSearch results.

OpenSearch is not a search engine—it is a way for search engines to publish their search results in a standard and accessible format. And because OpenSearch is built on top of standard RSS, existing tools—such as blog readers—can read OpenSearch results natively. While existing RSS tools can't take advantage of all of the advanced features that OpenSearch offers, this backward compatibility guarantees a rich set of client applications for OpenSearch today.
- From A9's introduction to OpenSearch

In support of OpenSearch, A9 is now providing a series of additional columns of data that can be added to each search query. Possibilities range from searches of specific Blogs to the full NYTimes archive. Notable among the early entrants is a search feed from indeed.com, one of  the subjects of last Friday's column. It is now possible to have each A9 search result include relevant jobs scraped from around the web.

It's early in the process. Our first results included jobs for farmers in Mississippi. Anyone who knows us would imagine that as a terribly unlikely career choice. It turns out that the recommendation engine includes an evaluation of recent search history.

While walking the local hills recently, we stumbled upon a mother coyote out "shopping" for her family. We watched her chase small lizards and rodents for about a half an hour and then walked home. First thing we did was to look coyotes up on A9.

In the early days of open search, that suggests that you're qualified to farm in Mississippi.

-More to come.

John Sumser

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