Archive for March, 2006

How to show different looking results based on subcollection

March 9, 2006 in Google Mini,XML API,XSL | Comments (3)

A common question is “How can I make the Google Mini show a different results page depending on the subcollection being used?” You might want to do this because you have a search covering an intranet and public area, or just two very different sites.

The Mini can only show one design of results on it’s own, i.e. through the normal results page it shows, based on the XSL you can set up in the ‘Configure Serving -> Output Format’ section of the admin area. However, as long as you have a scripting language on your web server (e.g. PHP, ASP, ColdFusion, Perl) you can use the XML interface to get the results back, then change the way they look in one of two ways:

  1. Trigger some XSL with the scripting language, making it look the way you want – you can use the admin area of the Mini to design the XSL if it helps
  2. Alternatively, use the scripting language to parse the XML, and display it how you want. This is probably more convenient if you do not know XSL and do not have time to learn it, but do know some programming. Doing this in ColdFusion (MX or 7), ASP (v3 or above) or PHP 5 is relatively straightforward if you all ready know some XML, it’s slightly harder in PHP 4, but still very possible with a little more effort

These give you the flexibility of being able to choose a method that best suits you or your developers, and gives you a lot of control over the look and feel of search results.

Can you put new pages or applications on a Google Mini?

in Google Mini,Q&A | Comments (1)

I’ve had these questions myself, and been asked it by a few people: “How do I put my website pages on a Google Mini?” and “Can I install my own application on a Mini, e.g. my web app or webstats?”

The answer to both questions is: no, you cannot put your own web pages on the Mini (nor on the Google Search Appliance) and you can’t install your own applications either. They have a web based interface where you can change the look of their own pages somewhat, but beyond that you can’t do anything else. There’s no way of uploading your own pages on to the box, and there’s no way of installing your own applications.

Basically, these things are a plug-and-play box, they don’t like being fiddled with, and although that’s probably rather different from what most webmasters are used to, it does allow Google to be confident about how the box will work, and to avoid support costs covering people who install leaky web apps on to the server and then complain when it eventually crashes.

What the Google Mini is good at, and what it is not good at

March 7, 2006 in Google Mini,Q&A | Comments (4)

I’ve been talking to various people recently, both by e-mail and at the Mini Google Group, who want to use a Mini for things it really isn’t suited for, so hopefully this will be helpful:

What the Google Mini is good at

It is very good at searching through lots of unstructured information, and finding the document (page) that best matches what you are searching for.

So, it is good for searching all your old sales documents on your intranet, to find the reference you made to ‘Singing badgers’

Or it’s good at searching all the articles on your website, for all the ‘orange-spotted tapirs’ that you have written medical items on.

What the Google Mini is not good at

It is not good at comparing pages for specific pieces of information, or for sorting by anything except relevancy or date the page was made.

For instance, if you have a large database with hundreds of products in, and you want to compare the prices of three or four of them, the Mini (and GSA) cannot do this. You need to change your shop so you can run comparisons using your standard database information.

Although you can put price or other information in to the Mini search results by having special meta tags on your product pages, it cannot sort the search results by anything except the standard relevancy, or by the date the page was last changed and spidered. You cannot force it in to sorting by price, or any other detail. If you want this, you need to update the search on your current database so it will sort by the price field in the SQL query.

If your shop search is working very slowly, try looking at:

  • Setting up indexes in the database to cover the most searched on fields
  • Upgrading your database (i.e. if you’re using Access, look at moving to MySQL or Microsoft SQL Server.)
  • Talk to your host about either moving to a higher grade of server, so the database runs more quickly, or upgrading to have a separate database server which is good enough to handle the load your website is putting on it.

The Mini is a good product, but it’s made for a particular set of circumstances, it would be a waste of money to buy it to do something it’s really not built to do, when you could use the same money elsewhere to get a proper solution.

Relevance in Mini and GSA searches

in Google Mini,GSA | Comments (8)

A question from Jim Westergren caused by looking at an oddity in Google PR reporting prompted me to look at the relevance rating in Google Mini search results.

For each search you do on the Mini/GSA, you get back a variety of information for each page. Not all of this is immediately obvious – there’s a last modified date which is often pretty useless, and also there’s a relevancy rating for each page. If you’re using the XML API, you’ll find the relevancy within <RK>.

Jim asked if the RK rating was always the same, or different for each page. I’ve done some checking, and it is different in the Mini, and the rating for each page depends on what you have searched for. For instance, on one search, a page I was following was rated as ‘5’, in another, it was ‘0’.

This means the RK value could be useful in a set of results, although as by default the results are ranked by relevancy so what the box thinks is the most relevant is at the top of the results, it’s probably not greatly useful. When sorting by date it becomes more useful, as you can try to spot the most relevant page in whatever results you happen to be looking at.

It should not be seen as a version of PageRank (‘PR’) within the search appliances, because the value is not fixed across all searches.