Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Test Drive: Factiva Search 2.0 Beta Wows With Highly Usable Features and Design

Well, regarding last night's post, sometimes I should just keep my mouth shut and wait a day. Clare's been doing her homework, and the results are beautiful. I had an opportunity to test drive the announced Beta of Factiva's Search 2.0 interface, a stunner of a search tool with great usability and a veritable shopping mall for best practices in search. Log in to the Beta for the first time and you'll be profiled for professional focus and how you search. This brings you to a Google-like single search box: OK, we expected that. But pop in a query and wow, what an improvement. "Did you mean" prompt, quick-click categories for all Factiva sources, magazines, newswires, separate tabs for Web content and pictures. Then to the right of the search results a "Discovery Pane," which provides a bar chart of how results cluster by date, a del.icio.us-like topic cluster heatmap with most prevalent topics in largest print, and bar chart rankings of most prevalent items by Companies, Industries, Subjects and Sources. Alerts via email are bone-simple to set up for any query. Individual articles from the Factiva database are equipped with "more articles like this" suggestions and topic clusters.

Web results offer only a News Clusters topic heatmap and news results from online mainstream news sources. This has its limits. For example, when using my benchmark "General Motors" query it pulls up a number of current articles for online mainstream publications but not the corporate Web site. Switch from "General Motors" to the suggested "General Motors Corp" and no results appear. Obviously this is still early days for Factiva to be taking on open Web search in a more aggressive way, but it's clearly trying to carve out a more well-defined position for corporate searchers trying to find mainstream news on the Web. The approach is likely to appeal to publishers trying to position their increasingly online content with enterprise searchers effectively, allowing them both access and segregation from competing "born on the Web" sources.

While very well designed overall, it's definitely still a Beta, with some notable glitches. Once you're in "Web News" mode new queries shift you back to Factiva-internal results first rather than sticking with your current focus. One query when in Web mode returned me to a "no results" listing on the Factiva-internal results page with no option to search the Web or the pictures archive. What, if it's not on Factiva it's not anywhere? Clicking on a clustered result in the Discovery pane applies a filter for that cluster term to the original search results, but it's not entirely intuitive at first that it's a filter on the original search. But these are mostly noise-vibration-harshness critiques of a search ride that's mostly very powerful and smooth.

My comments from yesterday's post on where search really brings Factiva in the long run still stand, but if Factiva had to come up with a far better weapon to convince corporate users to stick with them for general news content and research, it would be hard to think of a better job being done on fairly short notice. There will be many companies this year arguing to enterprises that their search interface can provide the highest value to their users. With Search 2.0, Factiva has earned themselves a place at the negotiating table for business news users.
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