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PENN WEB TEAM - AltaVista Search Interface

Overview

AltaVista Search Intranet 1.0 comes packaged with a locally customizable search interface. By making modifications to certain files, the site can change how the search is presented to the users.

We found that these modifications devices do not give us the design latitude that we need and certain other modifications had to be made to present this software in keeping with the PennWeb 2.0 look and feel and still maintain some of the functionality of the AltaVista search interface, particularly the ability to rotate certain sections of the main search page so that a different set of text displays to the user on reload of the page.

Introduction search page

The introduction search page and subsequent headers and footers to result pages are usually hardcoded into the AltaVista mhttpd binary so that a call to the main search page would serve up the page, e.g.,
http://www.upenn.edu:8080/
"index.html" is not an existing file as would be assumed from the above URL. Rather it is a conglomeration of html components that can be found in
$ALTAVISTA/httpd/public/pix/*
$ALTAVISTA/httpd/publich/tmpl/*

To make the introduction search page look the way we wanted it to look and point to the links that we wanted, we bypassed the normal design expectations of AltaVista. To build the introduction search page, AltaVista usually allows the site to modify the following files, inserting hardcoded text between the local site modifications:

logo.html
front_begin.html
front_sel.html
front_end.html
bottom_navbar_begin.html
bottom_navbar_end.html
feedback.html
copyright.html

The PennWeb introduction search page largely exists in logo.html and by using comment tags, we bypassed much of the hardcoded AltaVista html coding.

Main search page

For the main search page we wanted to include functional elements of the AltaVista search page, including rotating text. The "Featured Site of the Day" would rotate through the list of sites in the Penn A-Z index and display a different site on each reload or call to the main search page. We wished to also duplicate the rotating web tips.

This seemed most easily accomplished with a CGI script that would serve up a page with static HTML links and the rotating text. Having the user execute this script proved to be overly resource consumptive. Instead the script runs continuously, rebuilding he main search page every 15 seconds. A second script runs as a CRON job to check that the main search page build script is running.

searchck.pl - checks to see if the search page script is running
searchmain - rebuilds http://www.upenn.edu/search/index.html every 15 seconds

We anticipate that future versions of AltaVista Search Intranet will allow us to make the modifications we wish and make these local programs unnecessary.

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