SearchMonkey Developer Event

Review: SearchMonkey Developer Event at Wallacespace, 2 Dryden Street, Covent Garden, London, England. WC2E 9NA. 18:30 to 20:00

I'd heard quite a lot about SearchMonkey, Yahoo!'s new search platform but not got around to checking it out, so I was hoping this event would be a useful introduction. The evening involved a couple of presentations from Yahoo! developers coupled with free drinks and food - a promising combination!

The first presenter (sorry, didn't make a note of the name - a Yahoo! developer from the US) talked about the motivations behind SearchMonkey and some of the technical features. One of the main obstacles to more semantic data appearing on the web is that there's a chicken and egg problem. It's not worth having features supporting semantic standards like RDF and Microformats on search engines until there's content available, and it's not worth making content available until you get benefits on things like search results. SearchMonkey cuts through that whole issue by allowing users to add features to the search engine to make use of the semantic data they've added to their website. It allows you to modify the presentation of search results from particular sites (not just your own) using semantic data taken either directly from the page (if there are Microformats or RDFa available) or through an XSLT transformation which you can provide.

Next we had Neil Crosby walk us through building a couple of example SearchMonkey applications. It really is fairly straightforward - you pick a URL pattern for your application to apply to and then it's more or less point and click (especially if you have standard Microformats or RDFa available). A couple of noteworthy points came up:

  • You can ask SearchMonkey to automatically generate ten sample URLs as you go through the process, but it's best to pick the first one by hand as that's the one used in all the previews once your monkey is done
  • You can use XSLT to extract data if your target page doesn't have pre-parsed Microformats or RDFa available, but that will be slower (though it will at least get cached for 15 minutes after the first call)
  • The presentation part of the monkey is entirely separate from the data source, multiple monkeys can use the one data source, and you can use data sources provided by other developers in your monkey

At present all SearchMonkeys are opt-in on the part of the user, which means if you're not targeting a big site it's unlikely your finished application will see a lot of use. However, we were promised that 'within a month' there would be options to set a default SearchMonkey for a website if you're the registered owner of the site (ie. you've registered yourself on site explorer) - so I have that long to think of something clever to do with my search results :)

The evening ended with free pizza, hand prepared in the kitchen behind us, and there were free drinks throughout. We also got a nice SearchMonkey hat, a sticker and a rather weird USB stick (Grolsch style opening mechanism). All in all an excellent evening, 5 out of 5. It has taken me nearly two weeks to get the review finished off, but some folk were a bit quicker off the mark if you'd like an alternative perspective.

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