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Vertical Search in Higher Ed
December 28, 2009 - 10:11pm

Higher education needs a vertical search engine. This would be a great business opportunity, as a site that got higher ed search right would create a valuable platform for advertising. The value of a lecture capture banner ad would increase for anyone searching about lecture capture. Same with pay-per-click keywords. A vertical search in higher education would also keep readers on the site longer.


It is in writing this Technology and Learning blog that I've come to want a higher ed search engine. Yesterday I was trying to figure out how many hours a day college students spent playing video games. The other day I was looking for levels and trends in LMS adoption (Moodle, Blackboard, D2L etc.). In almost every blog post I write, or presentation I give or article that I'm working on, I need to find some fact, number, statistic, or piece of history related to higher education. Usually, the process of searching for the information I need takes longer then the actual writing. Even worse, I'm often unable to find what I'm looking for.


My search process for higher education research looks something like this. First, I search the box at IHE. IHE has a strong amount of content, and all of it is open and therefore linkable. Next I search The Chronicle of Higher Ed's site. The Chronicle often delivers good material, but much of it is behind a pay wall and therefore cannot be linked (or sent around to colleagues). After IHE and Chronicle search I'm usually forced to go to Google - which unfortunately does a pretty poor job of delivering the relevant and specialized results that I need.


How could a higher ed vertical search engine be created?


Idea 1: A site like IHE could increase the number of "Quick Takes" published each day, paying particular attention to include numbers, levels, and trends in each post.


Idea 2: IHE or the Chronicle could start a new content "bucket" explicitly made to be searched (as opposed to part of the daily browse experience). Perhaps the short items could be crowdsourced or outsourced - removing pre-publishing editorial screening (instead eliminating or editing posts the community flags as inaccurate). The focus could be on capturing stats, levels, and trends - as well as linking to and summarizing a wide range of higher ed. relating news, press releases, and research. Nothing behind a pay wall.


Idea 3: A new "chart and table" graphic content bucket could be created. Simple Excel charts and tables could be made against the existing IHE or Chronicle content - with again all charts free and linkable. Each chart / table could contain the referring link, keywords, and a quick summary. The production of these charts and tables could outsourced or crowdsourced. Making simple charts or tables from existing content seems like a good job to source to a low-wage / high-skill region. Let's say some outsourcing company charged $5 a table/chart (is this realistic) - even if 2,000 charts/tables were made the final cost would be cheap. 2,000 tables or charts in the higher ed vertical would form an excellent base for a specialized search database.


Idea 4: Partner with an existing specialized, human curated search engine such as Mahalo to build higher ed. vertical search pages.


Idea 5: Create a Wikipedia equivalent within the higher ed. vertical on your site. Topic entries are all specific to higher education. Let the community build out all the pages - and then index these pages for search.


How would you go about create the content for a vertical higher ed. search engine? Do you see a need for a service such as this? What content would you like to see populating a database to be searched against?


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