Archive for July, 2012

Eleven years of open source search

It’s now eleven years since we started Flax (initially as Lemur Consulting Ltd) in late July 2001, deciding to specialise in search application development with a focus on open source software. At the time the fallout from the dotcom crash was still evident and like today the economic picture was far from rosy. Since few people even knew what a search engine was (Google was relatively new and had only started selling advertising a year before) it wasn’t always easy for us to find a market for our services.

When we visited clients they would list their requirements and we would then tell them how we believed open source search could help (often having to explain the open source movement first). Things are different these days: most of our enquiries come from those who have already chosen open source search software such as Apache Lucene/Solr but need our help in installing, integrating or supporting it. There’s also a rise in those clients considering applications and techniques outside the traditional site search or intranet search – web scraping and crawling for data aggregation, taxonomies and automatic classification, automatic media monitoring and of course massive scalability, distributed processing and Big Data. Even the UK government are using open source search.

So after all this time I’m tending to agree with Roger Magoulas of O’Reilly: open source won, and we made the right choice all those years ago.

Media monitoring with open source search – 20 times faster than before!

We’re happy to announce we’ve just finished a successful project for a division of the Australian Associated Press to replace a closed source search engine with a considerably more powerful open source solution. You can read the press release here.

As our client had a large investment in stored searches (which represent a client’s interests) which were defined in the query language of their previous search engine, we first had to build a modified version of Apache Lucene that replicated exactly this syntax. I’ve previously blogged about how we did this. However this wasn’t the only challenge: search engines are designed to be good at applying a few queries to a very large document collection, not necessarily at applying tens of thousands of stored queries to every single new document. For media monitoring applications this kind of performance is essential as there may be hundreds of thousands of news articles to monitor every day. The system we’ve built is capable of applying tens of thousands of stored queries every second.

With the rapid increase in the volume of content that media monitoring companies have to check for their clients – today’s news isn’t just in print, but online, in social media and indeed multimedia – it may be that open source software is the only way to build monitoring systems that are economically scalable, while remaining accurate and flexible enough to deliver the right results to clients.

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July 25th, 2012

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An open day on open source search from Sirius & Flax

We spent Friday at the riverside offices of Sirius Corporation, our support partners, for the first and hopefully not the last of their Open Days on open source enterprise search. We were lucky to have Mike Davis, a very well known and highly experienced analyst to open the talks – despite suffering from flu he gave an engaging talk on why open source enterprise search software should be your first port of call, and how you should only consider closed source options when you need particular features they provide.

We then gave a quick Introduction to Open Source Search, detailing the various packages available (from Apache Lucene/Solr to Xapian and Sphinx) and showing a quick Solr-powered demo we’d built to search some pages from the BBC Music website. Using the programmer’s first choice for an example query (the ever reliable ‘foo*’) we discovered the wonderfully named Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band – which interestingly you can’t find via the BBC’s own site search engine due to lack of wildcard support.

Andrew Savory, Sirius’ CTO and Apache Foundation member, then gave a presentation on what an Apache project actually is and how best to engage with an open source community – very useful for those considering open source for the first time. The morning finished with a delicious barbeque on the riverbank provided by Sirius. We thought the event went very well and we’d love to confirm the rumour that this will become a regular event. Thanks to all at Sirius for organising and hosting the day and we look forward to returning.