TVNZ has based the search capabilities of its two-year-old improved website around the Google Search Appliance (GSA).
The appliance has played a crucial role in a vast improvement to the site. It has helped the network drive traffic to its own site and preserve its competitive position against unofficial sources of programme information and even illegal redistribution of actual video by other online services, says general manager of digital media, Tom Cotter.
He spoke at a joint presentation of the GSA with local partner Fronde in Wellington earlier this month.
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The television network has a number of particular requirements around search, with having to cope with the needs of different audiences. “We had the challenge of appealing to the hard-core news user – the 45-year-old businessman searching news coverage; he approaches search in a very different way from the 15-year-old Shortland Street user who wants to find our about what [a particular character’s] up to.”
A search for a prominent person gives separate sets of results for mentions of them in the news and for appearances and mentions in other television programmes, with a separate column for video clips and images.
Such complexity was achieved by not allowing the GSA to do its own unaided index-building for search. “The solution we went for is to set up the metadata and write a piece of middleware that actually force-feeds the GSA every time the CMA [content management application] is updated. It’s working incredibly well,” says Cotter. Fronde helped create the middleware.
Another important consideration is to be able to remove a news item that has become outdated by later news, or an item — particularly a user comment — which has been challenged as inaccurate or misleading. Legal compliance of this kind is crucial and stray index pointers that may still find the item must be cleanly removed.
“My top tip is when you’re going to deploy [GSA] think about the future uses you’ll put it to. It’s only as powerful as the metadata you give the algorithm to start indexing,” so such metadata must be conceived with the long view in mind.
Cotter quotes an internal email from TVNZ’s development manager, who says the GSAs are “fire and forget” machines. “Once you’ve got them in and set up properly, they just run and run,” the manager said.
On the other hand, says Cotter “restarting the GSA is not a quick process. So if you are customer-facing, make sure you have redundancy. No matter how good your internal development group is, it always helps a fast-track process to get a local partner [in this case Fronde] involved.”
Statistics show use of the GSA and redesign of the website has greatly increased search traffic. Increased search engine use sometimes points to bad website design, he acknowledges, but in TVNZ’s case, “I think this is because people are getting value from [search] so more are doing it, because [the site and search facilities] are so deep with information.”