Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cisco Search 2.0 - Is it really better?

I have given many fights with my colleagues whether Cisco's site is organized in a way that a not-grown-with-cisco person can use it and find the required information fast and easily (after 10 years working with Cisco, i still doubt about it). I must have bookmarked over 500 pages (which usually get moved around, with redirections not always working, feedback for lost links missing, etc.) on CCO after hours of surfing, in order to keep the everyday searching at the lowest possible level. But there isn't a single day at work, that i don't use the search feature. Of course, after learning to use analytically the online DocCD (due to CCIE), i still prefer to use it, mainly for the CLI exploration. But that was until recently, when it also got outer space (but that's another story).

Recently Cisco introduced its new search page/engine/technology called Cisco Search 2.0, which includes the following improvements:

  • Keyword Auto Suggest – View keyword recommendations similar to what you type in, based on frequently searched terms.
  • Navigators and Filters – Segment your results by Site Area, Task, Document Type, Product, IOS Software, or Technology, with a single click.
  • Breadcrumb Controls – Get a clear view and understanding of the search filters you have applied, and remove unwanted filters, with a single click.
  • Expanded Search - Get results for any keywords that are similar to your search term.
  • Auto Spell Check - The improved search functionality automatically checks for spelling and provides you with results for the corrected keyword.
  • Sort by Date or Relevancy – Organize your results by relevancy or by published date, with a single click.

If i'm not mistaken, previously Cisco was using Google's appliance. Despite that fact, comparing Google's online search and Cisco's search was like day vs night. Although i don't know what it's using now, i did some tests using the new engine (i have been using it from its beta stage) and on the first look it seems faster than the old one. On the other hand, it's still slower than Google's.

All results were based on Wireshark sniffed data (Statistics -> Conversation List -> IPv4), after having all tests repeated for 3 times and taking into account the average.

Searching for "CCIE" :

Page Results Time for 1st page Time for 2nd page Bytes for 1st page Bytes for 2nd page
Cisco 10.039 5 sec 5 sec 180 KB 180 KB
Google 48.100 1 sec <1 sec 14 KB 8 KB

I guess my provider's internet link prefers Google vs Cisco.

Regarding the accuracy of the results, i was never good at it. When computers learn to think exactly like humans, then search results will be successful for everyone. Until then, you'll have to use various combinations of cryptic symbols and alphanumeric characters in order to tell the engine what you're looking for. And you'll be lucky if the engine understands you.

What i liked most about the old search page was the right side, where you had the most important Tools available by a single click. Now you have to move out of the search page and look for them. Someone will say "why don't you use tabs?". And i will answer "because every damn page in Cisco is loaded with -i don't know what-, that makes you think twice before you attempt to open it". Is CCO becoming a bloatware site?

Also, regarding the new page, i don't quite understand the filters : Site Area, Task, Document Type, Product, IOS Software, Technology. To me, they make the search even more confusing. I wish there was a way to remove some of them from the beginning, or add some of your own. Why do i need the "Product/Cisco Lightstream ATM Switches" filter when looking for CCIE? I looked at its results and i found nothing useful there.

Lastly, all this search experience should be made more dynamic (ajax-like). I like the automatic completion and filtering/unfiltering should work the same way. You click on a filter, results are loaded immediately, without the need for page refresh. You click on unfilter, the previous state is loaded, again without page refresh.

As it seems, when it comes to search experience...Human Network needs a little more before it really becomes human.

So, what do you think of the new search engine? I have created a multiple-vote poll (to the right of the page) asking your opinion about it. Also Cisco has a feedback page regarding it. I guess you should give them a hint.

PS: in case you haven't noticed it, there is an "Ask The Experts" session called "Preparing for CCIE in Routing & Switching" running until 4-Apr-2008. If you're preparing for your CCIE lab, this is the time to ask all your questions. As usually, Maurilio Gorito will be there to help you.

Update 1-May-2008 : I have included the poll results below...

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