Structured Data for Course Web Pages and Customised Custom Search Engine Sorting

As visitors to any online shopping site will know, it’s often possible to sort search query results by price, or number of ‘review stars’, or filter items to show only books by a specified author, or publisher, for example. Via Phil Bradley, I see it’s now possible to introduce custom filtering and sorting elements into Google Custom Search Engine results.

(If you’re not familiar with Google’s Custom Search Engines (CSE), they’re search engines that only search over, or prioritise results from, a limited set of web pages/web domains. Google CSEs power my Course Detective and UK University Libraries search engines. (Hmm… I suspect Course Detective has rotted a bit by now…:-(

What this means is that if web pages are appropriately marked up, they can be sorted, filterd or ranked accordingly when returned as a search result in a Google CSE. So for example, if course pages were marked up with academic level, start date, NSS satisfaction score, or price, they could be sorted along those lines.

So how do pages need to be marked up in order to benefit from this feature? There are several ways:

  • Simply add meta-tags to a web page. For example, <meta name=”course.identifier” content=”B203″ />
  • using Rich Snippets supporting markup (i.e. microdata/microformats/RDFa)
  • As PageMap data added to a sitemap, or webpage. PageMap data also allows for the definition of actions, such as “Download”, that can be emphasised as such within a custom search result. (Facebook is similarly going down the path of trying to encourage developers to use verb driven, action related semantics (Facebook Actions))

I wonder about the extent to which JISC’s current course data programme of activities could be used to encourage institutions to explore the publication of some of their course data in this way? For example, might it be possible to transform XCRI feeds such as the Open University XCRI feed, into PageMap annotated sitemaps?

Something like a tweaked Course Detective CSE could then act as a quick demonstrator of what benefits can be immediately realised? So for example, from the Google CSE documentation on Filtering and sorting search results (I have to admit I haven’t played with any of this yet…), it seems that as well as filtering results by attribute, it’s also possible to use them to filter and rank (or at least, bias) results:

Not to self: have a rummage around the XCRI data definitions/vocabularies resources… I also wonder if there is a mapping of XCRI elements onto simple attribute names that could be used to populate eg meta tag or PageMap name attributes?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

5 thoughts on “Structured Data for Course Web Pages and Customised Custom Search Engine Sorting”

  1. Tony

    I’d guess that you wouldn’t have any objections to me passing this on to Course Data Programme projects? We’ve got some techie days coming up (20 June London, 21 June Leeds) – I’m certain you’d be very welcome to join in, if you’d like to follow this up with a group of interested people:

    I’ll have a go at some of this anyway if I get time (always the problem). We’re currently looking at XCRI-CAP 1.2 implementation for OU data.

    I’d be very interested in any progress, if you do manage to follow this up! The JISC course data programme is looking for examples of service deliveries built on the XCRI-CAP feeds.

    XCRI Support Team (and stuff) for the JISC course data programme

    1. @alan I’m more than happy for you to share this more widely. If I can find anyone using data that can be used to demo some of the Google CSE functionality, I’ll duly post it. I was also pondering grabbing the OU XCRI feed into Scraperwiki and having a little play with it there to see what sorts of thing might fall out ;-)

    2. @Alan PS surely JISC has spent so much on supporting the course data programme that anything I do ‘for free’ (ie at OU off-project/additional in-kind cost) will be meaningless insignificant in comparison?!;-)

        1. @alan On my to do list is a mechanism that would put up a paywall for any visitors to identified as coming from JISC or working on a JISC project ;-)

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