Search is dead: Long live 'findability'

NASA among agencies making enterprise searches more dynamic, interactive

In the world of search tools, there’s a new buzz phrase: “findability vs. searchability.”

“Search is broken,” said Bob Carter, vice president and general manager of Vivisimo Inc. of Pittsburgh. “Results are not shared, saved or collected. Search technology doesn’t factor in who I am, what I do, where I am or what I know.”

The search experience should not end with just a list of results, said Carter, speaking May 3 at the 2010 Knowledge Management Conference, held by 1105 Government Information Group. 

At the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., officials have embraced the virtues of findability. Two years ago, they implemented Google as their internal and external search engine, said Manjula Ambur, branch head for information management.

“Google has enterprise software you can bring inside the firewall,” she told conferees. “It’s been in operation since May 2008 with no major problems.”

The search engine, featuring a simple, easy-to-use interface, gives Langley scientists and engineers the ability to find the technical information they need to do their work and help NASA Langley meet its mission goals, Ambur said. It provides a unified search of disparate internal and external data sources, including documents, journals, images and books, and puts them together on one page.

When building the tool with Google, officials sought input from Langley users and from NASA security experts “to make sure the firewalls are working the way they should be.”

The tool currently has about 3,000 users who perform about 13,000 searches a month, mostly for technical data. Ambur said Langley’s scientists and engineers like the tool’s Google-like searching, its internal/external data integration, and fast, one-step findability.

To generate user feedback, the tool includes a button labeled, “Did you find what you’re looking for?” which helps officials plan and deploy improvements. Some enhancements in progress include the ability to save and share results and the addition of user-defined key matches, Ambur said.

Langley officials are working with three other NASA centers to take the tool NASA-wide, Ambur said.

About the Author

Richard W. Walker is a freelance writer based in Maryland.

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Reader Comments

Wed, Oct 12, 2011 Jonathan Bosley

When search engines are able to implement this kind of technology to the web, allowing users to say whether their search returned the results they were expecting, it will go a long way towards training the search engine to perform the way the user searches, vs. trying to train the user to search the way the search engine assumes they should.

Tue, May 11, 2010 K. Lindsey

To clarify. This had to be a large sale, involving a lot of hardware, a lot of custom work and not a small amount of consulting time in order to get this close to working.

Tue, May 11, 2010 K. Lindsey

Wow. NASA must be dropping some serious cash for this solution. My experience is that Google doesn't scale, doesn't handle structured data well at all, and doesn't handle database content well. TO compensate, they, like Vivisimo, Autonomy, FAST and any other traditional search system has to throw hardware at the problem. I'd like to be the Google Sales Rep who sold into NASA or the consultant NASA will have to bring in to make it work. I guarantee that things aren't as bright as this article makes it sound.

Mon, May 10, 2010 Johannes Scholtes McLean

I would like to add to this that to many people, search is just finding the best hits and not all the hits. There is actually a lot of technology out there to find more relevant information. An example of various techniques is listed here: and in various other postings on

Fri, May 7, 2010 Stacy

I think this is really interesting that our government security agencies have found a way to adopt Google into their framework - yet Google's Gmail is presently taking a beating from universities for not being secure enough.

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