On the final day of the Museums and the Web 2008 conference (Saturday !) I chaired a session on Search. There were only two papers presented at this session – and as the session was scheduled to last from 11.00-12.30 both of the speakers were happy for the session to provide an opportunity for general discussions after the papers had been presented.

Terry Makewell ‘s paper was entitled “The National Museums Online Learning Project Federated Collections Search: Searching Across Museum And Gallery Collections In An Integrated Fashion“. As described in a blog post by Nate Solas, the paper described the approaches to federated search being taken by 9 partner organisations in the UK. The two search technologies described were  OAI/PMH and Opensearch – and a decision was made to use Opensearch, due to its simplicity, the short timescales and the limited technical expertise and resources available by some of the partners.

Following Terry’s talk Johan Møhlenfeldt Jensen, Museum of Copenhagen, Denmark presented a paper on “Approaches To Presentation Of Cultural Heritage Information In The ALM-Area In Denmark And Scandinavia“. This paper complemented Terry’s paper nicely, and highlighted some of the challenges posed by federated search including the differing cultures across the archives, libraries and museums domains and the differing cultures across the Scandinavian countries.

The discussions afterwards focussed on whether a simple approach to federated search would be sufficient. Mike Ellis asked Terry whether used of Google search technologies, such as Google Coop, had been considered. It seems it had, but ruled out due to the complexities posed  by use of session IDs on some of the collections. In a subsequent tweeton the Twitter back-channel Mike pointed out his experimentation with Google Coop across a number of museums – and this was briefly tested by the two speakers after the session had concluded (as an aside I should note that this was the only relevant Tweet received during the session – however Terry and I were also interested in the football scores which I receive on  my Twitter account, including the flurry of goals conceded by Derby County!) .

The discussion on simplicity versus sophistication led to discussions on the user experience. Following a question on evidence of use of advanced search capabilities, data from an Australian example showed that a very low percentage of users (1%, I think) accessed an advance search capability – and, indeed, most users submitted only a single search term!  I pointed out that the importance of simple interfaces was likely to grow as use of mobile devices became more popular – a comment that was particularly pertinent to the MW 2008 conference, as the WiFi access problems conference delegates had experienced the previous day were apparently due to the large numbers of network users who were using an iPhone or Nokia N95.

There was a feeling, I think, that federated search may, in the future, be provided by mainstream commodity products – and, indeed, as collections management tools evolve and start to provide static URIs, the benefits of solutions such as Google Coop may become even more apparent.

Will there, I wonder, be a session on federated search at future MW conferences or will this area be, like institutional search, be addressed by mainstream solutions?