Apr 16 2009
Today I’m attending an event being hosted by my employer C5 Alliance in Jersey. We’ve got two respresentitive from FAST (a Microsoft Subsidiary) hosting a presentation and discussion session about FAST ESP, Microsofts vision for the future of FAST and helping users to navigate to the search results they are looking for.
As well as the general bumf about how FAST ESP works, they have also done a couple of demonstrations of clients they have worked with. Two very interesting sites that demonstration the power of FAST ESP in helping users quick find what they are looking for are Getty and Globrix.
Globrix was a surprise to me – although quite logical now that I know – as I have been using Gobrix for a while to look for a house to buy in Guernsey. Everytime I go to Globrix I just start with a general search for “Guernsey”. The result navigators down the left and the price graph across the top allow users to quickly refine the search results – it’s also AJAX enabled so the user doesn’t even leave the page to get the latest results.
The Globrix paradigm deviates from the normal type of property search website, in which the users creates a fixed query and if they don’t find what they’re after they have to create a new search query. Globrix allows the users to dynamically build their query usign contextual navigators, e.g. you might select an area to search in then refine the number of bedrooms and then refine the price.
FAST also differs from Google. The power of Google is in getting relevant information to the user in the first few results (how many people look more than 2 pages through the results?) but this fails the users when they don’t know what they’re looking for, it requires to keep try to guess more terms or different combinations of terms to try and find what they’re looking for. FAST allows the users to enter very simple search terms and then gives the users options to refine the query based on the context of the results that have been returned from thier initial query. But it doesn’t end there, as the user refines their query the context changes therefore the content refinement navigators change with the context.
Other interesting nuggets that come out of the sessions was the ability to search audio and video. The scenario brought to the table was about having to record all telephone conversations and have those readily accessible for future retreival. The simple solution to this is to store the audio files in a known location. When indexing that location run the audio through a speak-to-text conversion service and index the resulting text and associate the audio file location with the index.
In terms of SharePoint integration of FAST, we got a very sneak preview of an exciting new webpart that should be making its way into Codeplex in the not too distant future. I’m not sure if I can more than that as I was informed that this web part hasn’t been announced yet – watch this space for more information!