Federated Search: The Importance of Being Able to Find Information

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Information: The Lifeblood of the Enterprise

Timely access to critical information separates the winners from the losers in today’s information economy. Yet all too often knowledge workers fail in their quest to obtain the information they need. There are many reasons for this failure — some technical, some cultural, and some personal. No matter the cause, the amount of time wasted in futile searching for vital information is enormous, leading to staggering costs to the enterprise.

The Cost of Poor Information Management

Bottom Line: Information Is Useless If It Can’t Be Found and Retrieved

Crawling the Web: How Typical Web Search Engines Work

There are two basic approaches to finding content on the Web. The approach that Google and all major search engines use is to “crawl” the Web.

The trouble with crawling is that this search technique doesn’t find everything.

This is where Federated Search comes into play.

What is Federated Search?

Federated search technology enables users to search multiple information resources simultaneously through one search query. Users can then view search results in a single integrated list. In other words, users do no longer need to consult each information resource individually. Instead, they can search multiple library catalogs (OPACs), Web sites (e.g. Amazon.com, Google etc.), subscription and citation databases all at once.

Federated search technology is an integral component of an Information Portal, which provides the interface to diverse information resources. Once the user enters his or her search query in the search box of the Information Portal, the system uses federated search technology to send the search string to each resource that is incorporated into the Portal. The individual information resources then send the Information Portal a list of results from the search query. Users can view the number of documents retrieved in each resource and link directly to each search result.

In short, an Information Portal uses federated search technology to enable users to:

  • Search for information in multiple information resources through a single query
  • View search results in a single list
  • Link directly to each resource to expand the search

The benefits of Federated Search

The essential benefits of federated search to its users include:

  • efficiency
  • quality of search results
  • ability to accurately locate the most current, relevant content


Efficiency, Time Savings

Using a federated search engine can be a huge time saver for researchers. Instead of needing to search many sources, one at a time, the federated search engine performs the many searches on the user’s behalf. While federated search engines specialize in finding content that requires form submissions to retrieve, it isn’t the only criterion for being a federated search engine. A federated search engine also associates content from different sources. Federated search uses just one search form to cover numerous sources, and combines the results into a single results page.

Quality of Results

Federated search engines show their value best in environments in which the quality of results matters, such as libraries, corporate research environments, and the federal government.

Most Current Content

In addition to filling out forms and combining documents from multiple sources, another important benefit of federated search engines is that they search content in real time. Real time data is crucial for researchers who are searching for up-to-the-minute content or for content that changes frequently. As soon as the content owner updates their source, the information is available to the searcher on the very next query.

By contrast, with standard search engines/Google, the results are only as current as the last time that Google crawled sites with content that matches your search words. Content you find via Google might be days or weeks old, which can be fine depending on your situation, but can be problematic if you want the most current information.

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