July 2001

From University of Newcastle upon Tyne

Researchers tackle search engine 'information overload'

RESEARCHERS at Newcastle University, England, have found a way of tackling a major world wide information retrieval problem - information overload.

The team, in commercial partnership with the Newcastle upon Tyne-based NBS, have developed a search engine powered by complex techniques called 'data mining', which enables busy professionals to quickly find very specific information via a user friendly interface.

The new search engine is being applied commercially for the first time and is being exclusively licensed to an electronic information service for construction industry professionals - architects, surveyors, contractors and engineers - the Construction Information Service (CIS). This is available in both online and CD-ROM formats on a subscription basis.

Information overload is not restricted to the construction industry, but is a huge worry today for millions of workers world wide. A report by Reuters even identified a new illness called 'Information Fatigue Syndrome' after researchers surveyed office-based managers from Britain and abroad. It found the Internet to be particularly damaging, causing "information anxiety" for frustrated users who said searching wasted their time.

Professionals within the construction industry must keep up to date with a wide range of technical guidance, standards and legislative documents that are published each year and which are currently available through CIS.

A good search engine is needed to sort through the collection of more than 13,000 publications within CIS. A search for information on a particular topic - such as 'fire' - could throw up thousands of results.

The 'data mining' techniques are used to analyse these huge volumes of raw data and extract information which will be interesting and relevant to specialist users, rank it in terms of importance, and index it.

Studies have shown that the majority of searchers enter one or two word queries and hope for the best. As anyone who has used search engines will know, this often finds a large list of documents, of which a significant percentage are irrelevant to the searcherís requirements. The new search engine discreetly prompts users with suggested phrases that relate to their key word search and which make it increasingly specific, thus helping to get rid of the irrelevant material and allowing the users to concentrate on what they want to know.

For example, if the user searched under 'condensation' the search engine returns the documents that match condensation along with several phrases relating to condensation. It would allow the user to quickly refine his or her query to 'summer condensation' 'control of'', 'ventilation and avoidance of', 'risk of' condensation and so on. Even users who know little about condensation can be helped to the exact information they need.

Trevor Basey, product manager, said:

"A standard search engine without this 'phrase suggestion' mechanism could generate many thousands of results in response to the entry of a general search term.

"The new CIS search engine suggests these phrases as a method of steering the user to the information required, producing both a relevant and manageable results list, and thus alleviating information overload - a common problem with today's search engines."

Professor Stephen Lockley heads up the research centre behind the new search engine, Newcastle University's Construction Informatics Research Centre (CIRC).

He said:

"The information on the Internet is growing so fast that busy professionals find it difficult and time consuming to find relevant publications, they often see the WEB as a time waster.

"There are a whole range of search engines trying to address the information overload problem but I don't think any of them has gone as far into the construction industry knowledge base as we have."

* Further information, including more detailed explanations of CIS/the search engine/data mining for specialist reporters, from: Newcastle University: circ@ncl.ac.uk or Trevor Basey: t.basey@nbsservices.co.uk * Newcastle University Press Office: Claire Jordan 0191-222-6067 or 222-7850.

Notes to journalists:

1. Other new features of the Construction Information Service include updated graphics, a "new & revised documents" feature - enabling the user to view the latest additions at the click of a button -and a "document summary viewer" which allows users to scan document summaries from within the results list. The browsing feature has also been upgraded. More new features are planned over the coming months.

2. CIS is a joint venture product between British Standards Publishing Limited and RIBA Companies Ltd, of which NBS is a division. NBS are based at The Old Post Office, St. Nicholas Street, Newcastle upon Tyne. CIS is distributed by information specialists Technical Indexes (ti), an IHS Group Company based in Bracknell, Berkshire.

3. The public-private sector collaboration between Newcastle University and NBS started in 1987. The Construction Information Service was a product of this collaboration and was first launched in 1994, as a CD ROM product. The online version was officially launched in January 2000.

4. Further information on CIS from Trevor Basey, 0191-244-5618, or http://www.tionestop.com/servlet/TIViewPage?page=cis

5. Some search engine facts:
85% of Internet users use search engines to find new web sites. Internet users rank searching as their most important activity The average employee using the Internet spends 73 minutes per month using search engines. Source: http://www.searchenginewatch.com/reports/index.html












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