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Vivísimo to Power Web Searching for NLM Sites
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Posted On January 29, 2007
Since its founding in 2000, Vivísimo (www.vivisimo.com) has strived to show what can be done differently to bring content alive using its document-clustering technology. The company devised numerous concept demos to show the possibilities of its search platform. The strategy has paid off. The most recent win for the company is a contract with the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) to enhance searching on www.nlm.nih.gov. The NLM, the world's largest biomedical library, said it will leverage Vivísimo's enhanced search functionality to provide quick and easy access to information on linked Web pages. Vivísimo will also enable search functionality for the NLM's consumer health Web sites, MedlinePlus (http://medlineplus.gov) and MedlinePlus en espańol (http://medlineplus.gov/spanish), which aggregate medical and health information from government agencies and other authoritative organizations.

The amount of the NLM contract, awarded Jan. 3, was not announced. (NLM representatives were not available to discuss the deal by telephone but did agree to answer some questions by email.) Joyce Backus, head of the NLM's reference and Web services section, said that there's no time frame for when the new search capabilities will be made available "since we have not yet had our training or final implementation discussions."

Backus said the library rated proposals from Vivísimo and other vendors based on prototypes. "Based on our scoring criteria for the prototypes," she said, "Vivísimo offered the best search results, based on the content and metadata of the NLM Web documents." Backus expects the Vivísimo solution to provide search results that most closely match users' expectations.

"Citizens want a health information search experience that mirrors the simplicity of their regular Web searches. Government agencies want to provide a free information service that surpasses the private sector in the quality of its information, search experience, and design," said Raul Valdes-Perez, CEO of Vivísimo. "By marrying NLM's expertise in selecting, creating, and updating authoritative health information with ours in delivering superior search experiences, citizens will soon be very well served by the enhanced NLM, surpassing anything else out there."

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Click for full-size image

Valdes-Perez stressed that Vivísimo's clustering technology creates its "categories" on-the-fly from the search results, using terms in the title, snippet, and any other available textual description (including metadata) in the search results themselves. Technologies that provide more of a "guided-navigation" approach rely on controlled vocabularies and predetermined folders of content. The current implementation of MedlinePlus presents categories shown by folders, but there's no depth beneath each folder. To see the differences that Vivísimo could bring to the site, run one of the searches on the concept demo site at http://vivisimo.com/html/mis and then do the same search in the current version of MedlinePlus. On the left side in the demo are hierarchical lists of topics and collections that can be expanded and collapsed and used to navigate. On the right side above the results list is a box with a "spotlight tab" that can show relevant content directly (without leaving the search results page) from a medical encyclopedia or compiled drug information or news reports. (See the screen example.)

MedlinePlus contains pages of carefully selected links to Web resources with authoritative health information, including dictionaries, directories, organizations, news sources, and 650 health topics. It also contains links to preformulated searches of the MEDLINE/PubMed database, which is a Web-based, searchable database of more than 16 million article references published in more than 5,000 biomedical journals and magazines.

MEDLINE/PubMed is not included in the NLM contract with Vivísimo. (Several years earlier, Vivísimo had done its ClusterMed demo site for searching MEDLINE/PubMed and a demo of Profiles in Science.) According to Backus, NLM's Entrez system searches MEDLINE/PubMed and will continue to do so. She said that the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at NLM is in the process of making major improvements to the Entrez search and display.

ClinicalTrials.gov is the responsibility of another part of NLM, the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, and it is not part of the Vivísimo implementation either.

The day after the NLM announcement, Vivísimo announced that USA.gov (www.usa.gov) had launched using Vivísimo's Velocity Web search platform. The relaunched portal—formerly known as FirstGov.gov—is the official Web portal of the U.S. government. It leverages Vivísimo Velocity's search capabilities, combined with expanded results from Microsoft MSN Search. (Vivísimo and MSN won the contract with the U.S. General Services Administration in fall 2005.) Vivísimo's solution also serves as the technology backbone for Kids.gov, GobiernoUSA.gov, and Consumer.gov, which are sister sites designed for specific audiences.

The agreement with NLM is a bit different. For USA.gov, Vivísimo and MSN did the entire job, according to Valdes-Perez. NLM has licensed the Velocity software, will be trained on it, and then will do the design and implementation itself.

(Vivísimo has no connection with the Science.gov site, which is known as the FirstGov for Science. It is hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Scientific and Technical Information.)

Vivísimo's agreement with the NLM is its latest partnership designed to provide better search and discovery for consumers of U.S. government information. In 2005, Vivísimo introduced a government search tab at http://gov.clusty.com to search political and government-related information. Valdes-Perez said this now points to USA.gov. Vivísimo also has an agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense MilitaryHOMEFRONT portal (www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil). Vivísimo also makes large public documents such as the 2006 federal budget, "The 9/11 Commission Report," and "The Iraq Study Group Report" searchable to the public.

Valdes-Perez said the concept demo for NLM showed that Vivísimo knows how to deal with the complexity of NLM's data and leverage its structured fields. He said, "They actually read our RFP and liked the concept demo." He predicts a growing trend toward speedier deployment of enterprise search that can deal with the full complexity of an organization's content (whether government or enterprise) and offer a rich, productive user experience.

Preliminary looks at Vivísimo's concept demo have provided satisfying results in comparison to the current search capabilities and results presentation at MedlinePlus. Industry expert Janice McCallum, president of GrandView Insight, Inc., really liked Vivísimo's categorized display in the demo. She commented: "Vivísimo presents search results that are easier to interpret because they are displayed in a more visually attractive and meaningful way. The display makes it simple for users to quickly scan the page to see what types of information are available for their specific need. The categorized results are especially helpful when searches are carried out on very general topics, terms for which there are multiple meanings, or topics for which there is a wide range of information available. With Vivísimo's search engine, the most relevant results really stand out in the display and users can quickly find related information."

McCallum also sees the current development in the larger picture of medical and health portals. "2007 looks to be the year of the health portal with Steve Case's Revolution Health's portal launching this week (www.revolutionhealth.com), Google continuing to develop its Google Health vertical, advancements from WebMD, and many other medical publishers and aggregators seeking to provide health and medical information tailored to a consumer audience. MedlinePlus enhanced with the Vivísimo search and display should be a top choice for anyone looking for medical information from authoritative sources."

Another user, medical information services specialist David Rothman, posted this comment on his blog after hearing the news: "I can't wait to see what Vivísimo is going to do for MedlinePlus! I already find it powerful and easy to use, so enhancements are just icing. Sweet, delicious, gooey icing. :)"


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.



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