Enhancing search results with metadata

My tag fever has now infected the InfoWorld site, as Chad Dickerson and Matt McAlister have recently discussed. This opens up a bunch of possibilities. Today, for example, I tweaked my experimental InfoWorld power search to report the InfoWorld-assigned tags for URLs in the result set. Only the most recent items carry tags. But when they do exist, it seems really useful to surface them in a search context. Since new stuff is being tagged, and since search is weighted for recency, they'll be showing up a lot more as we go forward.

Enhancing search results with metadata is something I've been thinking about, and doing, for a long time. I devoted a chapter of my 1999 book to the topic, and outlined the same strategies in a column way back in 2000.

The basic idea is really simple. When you're scanning a list of search results, it's expensive to click through to a dead end. To avoid that outcome, you'd like the results page to decorate each item with clues that help you decide whether it's worth investing some of your scarce attention. I think the tags will turn out to be a great source of these clues. So will aggregated metadata from del.icio.us -- common tags, number of citations -- but that'll require more caching of del.icio.us data than I'm doing now.

You may also notice that InfoWorld's result URLs are starting to have a new look. What would once have been:

IP telephony is still about the money

would now be:

IP telephony is still about the money | InfoWorld | News | 2001-05-28 | by Stephen Lee

Surfacing these extra bits of metadata -- the publication, the story type, the date, the author -- is a great way to make search results more scannable. The mechanism is the humble, but often overlooked, HTML doctitle -- that is, the contents of your HTML pages' <title> tags.

If you're not expressing your doctitles as a virtual metadata repository, you're missing out on some low-hanging fruit. The strategy pays multiple dividends because doctitles show up everywhere: in your own search engine, in Google and friends, in local and shared bookmarks, maybe even (as in our case) in your web analytics.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2005/04/20.html#a1219