On the evening of February 24, Factiva.com users saw a new icon appear on the home page screen. The "New! Preview" icon offers a "sneak peek" at two new interfaces. A new Start Page provides a simplified, Web search-engine-style dialog box for Google-ized search statements, plus some portal-style community services targeted around user profiles. Factiva refers to the Start Page interface screens as an "Information Worker Experience," using terminology borrowed from its new partner, Microsoft. The IWE interface screens also assist users in refocusing search results by connecting automatically to index-based analysis of preliminary search results. Changes have also been made in the Advanced Search options for more experienced users. The previewed interfaces should go into effect throughout the system late this month. At that time, Factiva will also introduce a toolbar.
Karin Borchert, Factiva's chief product officer, informed me that the studies for developing the new tools extend back to last fall. Factiva has relied on extensive customer feedback, usability studies, and Web-site analysis in making the changes. They hope the new interfaces will make searching easier, faster, and more relevant. Borchert said, "We recognize people go to the Web to conduct searches, but we're encouraging people to turn to us for business searches by marrying simplicity with quality content." The content searched will remain the same via both routes, but results may differ, according to Borchert, depending on the different search interfaces used. The Start Page still allows searchers to move to the Advanced Search option right away.
The Information Worker Experience screens allow searchers comfortable with the minimalist ways of Web search engines to just enter a couple of terms in a dialog box to start the search process. At initiation, the system prompts users to identify their industry, job function or department, and geographic region. Using this profile information, the system can then adjust what it retrieves in a Community section, which offers "Most Read" headlines, "Latest News," and "Editor's Choice." Other tabs reach Web news through links and pictures from Reuters and Associated Press.
Free-text search results are filtered against Factiva Intelligent Indexing and enhanced source selection algorithms to present search alternatives. Greg Merkle of Factiva wouldn't describe the process as clustering. "Our algorithm covers several levels of interpretation, mapping to our indexing. We also use statistical ranking as part of the results for targeting or filtering." The semi-clustering of results will enable searchers to disambiguate searching (for example, Apple the computer company from apple the agribusiness product or Coach the company from coach the sports figure).
Searches in the IWE version join terms with an implied AND; phrase adjacency needs quotation marks. The IWE search screen also posts a list of recent company searches conducted by the user. A simple click and the system will reconduct searches from the company list.
In the Advanced Screen, the source selection function has been improved, enabling easier selection of single sources. Sources also include the Web sites that Factiva's editors determined have real merit. Borchert indicated that Factiva staff has reduced the kinds and numbers of Web sites they crawl to target only the most relevant and the ones people use.
The free-text search statement box has been relocated at the top of the Advanced Search screen. Or searchers can look up within the context of all sources or only subjects or companies. Training options and links to instructions have also been improved, as well as speed of loading and page size.
Though not available during the preview period, the Factiva Toolbar will be made available at no extra charge when the new interfaces launch systemwide later this month. The Toolbar will rest on screen, available for a one-click into the Factiva data through the Start Page/IWE route. Once in the system, users can redirect their searching to the Advanced Search route. Searcher Mary Ellen Bates has tested the Toolbar and states, "The Factiva toolbar is a new addition to my browser bar, and I'm impressed with its simplicity. Similar to the Google toolbar, you type in a query and go directly to Factiva's search results."
The new interfaces will be available through Factiva.com, Factiva Search Module, and Factiva Search for Microsoft Office 2003. In time, Factiva also plans to introduce the Start Page/IWE search route to searchers coming to their data through Dow Jones' wsj.com route.