Searching Within Your Own Domain

I talk a lot about internet search here in the Studio. No surprise, really, since so much of what we do involves reaching outside to pull relevant information inside. But how do you locate and pull your own, internal information?

I got to thinking about this as I read this post at IHeartTech (link here) called 10 Critical Computer Skills Every Attorney Should Know. The information really pertains to anyone who stores more than a handful of files on their own system.

How do you access your own documents and pertinent information? If you are a professional, it is highly likely that you have hundreds of files containing valuable, mine-able data – data you can use so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel on a regular basis. I am aware that some people manually set up their own, digital filing system and use that system as their only organizational means. This is fine, provided you maintain the parameters and design that system on Day 1 so that it can fit your needs on Day 1,756. I do manually organize my information into folders and try very hard to maintain the conventions to facilitate my later attempts to retrieve information or otherwise perform analysis regarding data sets.

But what if you can’t find a document that you know is there. You can recall some of its attributes, but not its name or its file location? There are other automated ways to deal with MIA information and employing these tools can save you a fistful of headache.

In addition to the manual system, there are search and indexing tools built into your own operating system. Even Windows XP has a little known feature called the Indexing Service – my IT professionals didn’t even know what the Indexing Service was when I first told them about it years ago. Later OS, including Vista and Windows 7, as well as the Mac OS, include forms of universal search that also employ indexing features.

What is an indexing system? It is an application within the OS that scans all documents and files, mining for keywords and identifying terms, and creates a database of summaries of the data. The database may then be searched using keywords and, in the case of the old XP system, rudimentary Boolean search connectors. The old XP system, which resides within the Computer Management  function, allowed one to filter results by date, relevance, title, and path. The search function works quite quickly on a large set of data – I have nearly 2,000Word documents alone on my old XP machine. Although it hogs space and slows the computer slightly, I have come to rely on Indexing on that old clunker.

My newer Vista system has the search function built into the OS in a more organic way – it is integrated and  can pull keywords across applications, out of documents, emails, folders and internet favorites. Mac OS have a similar feature in Searchlight. The Windows integrated search can be added to XP systems, but I find it incredibly slow in XP, hence my reliance on the relatively more agile Indexing System on my older box. On my faster laptop, this search feature works fine and can pull my data quickly. I have yet to stump it.

If these built-in tools don’t quite do it for you, there are other options. Google has a free download, Google Desktop Search (link here), that works much like a Google Search on your own computer. It works on Windows, Linux and Mac. The beauty of this tool is that it can search networked or shared drives – a feature unavailable in the old Windows Indexing service. You can select whether to include both internal and external search and you can exclude folders from results. There are add-ons and widgets, and the ability to incorporate the tool within Outlook.

The IHeartTech article points out two paid software options: Copernic and X1. I have no personal experience with either of these systems, so I cannot comment in detail. I do understand that they can be employed throughout an enterprise, serving as a nifty knowledge management tool.

Consider how you store and retrieve your own information. Can you improve your tools? There is always something tech around the bend designed to make your life easier.