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9/11/2006
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Google OneBox Could Change How Intranets Look

Earlier this year, Google announced the addition of OneBox functionality to its Google Search Appliance, a self-contained search solution that is primarily marketed for use on corporate intranets but can also provide a custom search interface for internet websites as well. Based on what I have seen, Google OneBox could significantly change the look of many intranets and websites.

20060911cannell01.gifOneBox is a lesser known feature of Google.com, but one that you have already experienced. To try it out, go to Google.com and enter "weather toledo". At the top of the search results page, just before the listing of matching web pages, you will find a brief weather forecast for Toledo, Ohio. This is OneBox in action (see image, right).

 A goal for all intranets should be to provide the information employees need where they work. An oft-cited study from Forrester suggests that search is our number one means of navigation. So it makes sense that we should strive to return as much relevant information as possible from our primary means of navigation. OneBox is one approach to accomplish this.

At the time of the initial announcement a number of application vendors also announced the availability of OneBox modules for their enterprise suites. These include SalesForce, SAS, and Oracle. Incidentally, it appears this list has since grown substantially as evidenced by the OneBox Gallery.

For example, the web page at Oracle describing its OneBox module shows results of a query looking for requisitions at the top of Google search results. The value here is the reduction in effort it takes to get this type of information. No longer does the manager have to spend minutes navigating a separate application for something that could take seconds via the Google interface. This is really powerful stuff.

Google also provides ample documentation  for creating OneBox modules for your own applications. Interfacing with the appliance is straightforward. Applications that already have a web interface can likely work with OneBox with a minimal amount of effort.

Communication between the appliance and the module provider is secured via https. It can support server authentication via certificates or it can use a username and password with http-basic authentication.

The appliance supports any number of enterprise single sign-on systems so it knows the identity of the user who submitted the query that invoked the OneBox module. This identity is passed to the module by sending a SSO cookie for the user. This allows OneBox to provide the same results as if the user performed the operation directly within the application itself. This ensures access control is enforced but also could provide personalized results based on the user's role.

To imagine how this could be applied on your intranet, consider a simple interface that can quickly return results for:
•    A white page lookup for anyone in your company
•    Look up a part number
•    Status of an order
•    Just about any query from a transactional system

To me this is déjà vu all over again. Google OneBox is training people to type short phrases to get the information they need. This, my young friends, is what we call a command line and used to be the only interface into applications before the web and before windowing systems that use a mouse.

OneBox marks the return of the command line and it makes the search box significantly more powerful.

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