Online tool to speedsearch

July 27, 2001

A search engine for the construction industry that overcomes the frustration of wasted time on the web has been created by Newcastle University researchers.

The system was developed in partnership with National Building Specification Services (NBS). It is powered by complex data-mining techniques that the researchers claimed would let users retrieve specific information rapidly.

The search engine has just been launched for use by the Construction Information Service (CIS). Architects, engineers and surveyors, who have to keep up to date with technical, standards and legislative documents, can now sort through the 13,000 papers in the CIS collection to find specific items, without information overload.

Stephen Lockley, head of the University's Construction Informatics Research Centre, which led the project, said: "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."

While other search engines exist that attempt to address the information overload issue, Professor Lockley said none was based on such a detailed knowledge base of the construction industry.

Most searchers for information on the internet enter only one or two-word queries and this usually throws up a huge list of results. The data-mining method prompts users with suggested phrases relating to the key search word, to progressively refine the list of results and eliminate unwanted material. Relevant data are then ranked and indexed.

NBS product manager Trevor Basey said: "The new CIS engine suggests these phrases as a method of steering the user to the information required, producing both a relevant and manageable results list."

For example, users seeking the word "condensation" would be given the choice of several related phrases to narrow the search such as "control of", "risk of" or "ventilation and avoidance of".

He acknowledged that the system could be useful for other professions, but said there were no plans to extend it beyond the online and CD-Rom formats for CIS subscribers.

Newcastle University's partnership with NBS began in 1987, and the first CIS was launched seven years ago on CD-Rom. The online version followed last year. The team has created other new features, including a document summary viewer that allows users to scan document summaries from within the results list.

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