Monday, April 09, 2007

Google Search for the Masses? or Silly me ...

I thought Google was free.

Not quite Haiku - maybe more like Dr. Seuss - but not bad for an engineer!

Last week, I got an email from our marketing department, proclaiming the latest enhancement to our college website - a Google search box. Yes, search of the site was a big issue with users, but I was still confounded as to why this was such a big deal and why it took so long. Having built a number of webpages myself, I knew how easy it was to set up a Google search box and embed it in your webpage. Click here to create your own custom Google search engine. In fact, I've embedded a search box below that you can use to search the college website:

Google Custom Search

For comparison - here is a screenshot of the search box on the college webpage - sorry couldn't embed this one.
So you might be thinking - big deal, so it took them a little longer to get the code into the page; they've got it there now, so end of story.

Well, not quite. This is where it gets interesting and a little silly. If you type in a query in the college search bar - I typed our new course management system "angel," you get something like this:
Nothing you haven't seen before here - about 70 hits; with 37 results shown (Google search omits similar or identical results). But wait, there is something new - I recognize it, maybe you don't - it takes a trained eye or someone who teaches technology. Just above the search button is the word appliance - here's a closer look.
Usually the words above the search box indicate what type of search we performed - typically web, images, maps, etc. So we're searching for appliances? No not exactly, in fact we're searching an appliance:

These are the two appliances Google sells - you install these in a rack with your switches and routers. The low-end appliance (blue) starts at about $3000-$6000 and requires a yearly maintenance fee of about $1000. So who buys these? Enterprises - large businesses - that need to search 100s of thousands of documents.

For comparison, let's look at my search engine - about 60 hits; with 42 results shown

Here are the top five hits for the two search engines - compared side-by-side.

$3000-6000 + $1000/year


The results aren't exactly the same, but similar enoguh that we can call it a draw. Now to compare these approaches, we need some sort of metric - I'll define one here I call the Q-Factor - we take the quality of the results (about equal here) and divide by the cost.

Free is infinitely better!

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