LinkedIn Invests Big in New Search Engine TechBy Mike Vizard
One of the primary challenges that organizations face in terms of engaging customers on the Web is that most of the features and capabilities of the Websites they build never get used. The reason for this is the same as it is with almost any application. Most people discover one or two aspects of a Website, but never bother to delve deeper into the site.
Faced with that very challenge, the engineers at LinkedIn have been working for almost two years on new search engine technology that would make it easier for the social networking service to expose capabilities to users in a way that would accelerate their use and adoption.
After it was announced on June 14 that Microsoft is buying LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in cash, a more robust search feature capable of handling the growth Microsoft will bring in the form of Office suite users is necessary. LinkedIn’s growth has slowed in recent years, although the online business networking giant boasts 43 million users.
Josh Walker, director of search and feed infrastructure for LinkedIn, said the Galene search engine is now serving 100 percent of the search traffic across all of LinkedIn's more than 35 vertical categories. Previously, LinkedIn relied on the open-source Lucene search engine. But over time, LinkedIn found it difficult to both manage Lucene at a level of scale that would provide users with a holistic experience across all the modules that make up the LinkedIn site. The end result is not only a better ability to surface content across more areas of the site to a user—Walker said that the search queries themselves are now running about 20 percent faster.
Just as critically important to LinkedIn, Walker also noted that Galene is a crucial enabling technology driving the development of an Economic Graph, an ambitious LinkedIn effort to digitally map the global economy by profiling all three billion people that currently participate in the global workforce. At present, LinkedIn claims to have more than 400 million users worldwide.
Despite being a major contributor to the open-source community, Walker said LinkedIn has no plans to turn Galene into an open-source project. But there is an application programming interface (API) that third-party developers can invoke as long as they have permission from LinkedIn.
Walker said most organizations don’t fully appreciate the critical role that search engines and metadata play in the user experience. Once a user begins to regularly revisit their site, the metadata that the organization captures about that visitor can be used to provide a richer experience with each return visit. The ultimate end goal is not only more affinity for the site—but also actual increased usage of all the modules that make up that site.
Naturally, it remains to be seen how this investment in a proprietary search platform will pay off for LinkedIn. But as the Web continues to evolve, users are clearly voting with their clicks in terms of what sites they spend the most amount of time on. More often than not, there’s a direct correlation to the quality of that user experience and the ultimate number of repeat visitors any given Website can count on.