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The Story of Mirador: A Search Engine for Latin America

By Rafael Antonio Ibarra Fernández

"What is the use of having access to so much information, if when I need something, I cannot find anything I’m looking for?"

The amount of information on the Internet has been growing exponentially each day for several years now. This phenomenon made clear the need to have a tool that would ease finding the information searched for, considering the particular criteria of the person performing the search. This is why the search engines and the automatic and semiautomatic systems that gather and index data have come to life, helping, with some limitations, locate the sites at which users may find what they’re looking for.

In our Latin American countries, we may gladly confirm that the trend is the same, and the information that we, Latin Americans, are publishing on the Internet is growing daily not only in quantity but also in quality.

Origins of Mirador

Some time ago, in the course of the III Central American Forum of Electronic Communications, guided by this perception, an agreement was achieved over the need and convenience of having a regional search engine that allowed the focus to fall on finding sites and pages that presented local contents and, therefore, were more appropriate to the information needs of the region.

Some months after that, in El Salvador, within the SVNet group, SV Top Level Domain manager (SV represents El Salvador, according to international standards established by the ISO—International Organization for Standardization), a proposal was made to have a search engine for the country regardless of the fact that national Web sites, under domain SV, may already be registered in large databases such as Yahoo!, Altavista, and Excite, so that they could have their contents revised and indexed automatically in order to ease the search and finding of information.

The project was undertaken as a graduation work by the Universidad Centroamericana "José Simeón Cañas" (UCA), a member of SVNet, and thanks to the enthusiasm and research work done, the concept and later the technical aspects were solved and the search engine was significantly named Mirador.
The name was proposed within the III Foro Centroamericano de Comunicaciones Electrónicas, because besides its obvious meaning (mirador, in Spanish, is a sightseeing place, usually on the top of a hill), the only way to have some distraction during that event was to walk to a nearby mirador. The nearest city was located quite far away.

As part and sample of Latin American collaboration, the Mirador logo was created and developed by Sylvia Cadena of Colombia as a very special favor to this project.

Afterward, thanks to the collaboration and enthusiastic wish to improve the user interface design, Vida Luz Arista of Nicaragua and her team introduced improvements and additional elements that have made Mirador more attractive and easy to use.

The Technology Used

From the technology point of view, this is an application of appropriate technology, since a symbiosis of cost-free products on the Internet has been accomplished. Basically, we are using the robot program called Combine, developed in Sweden, and the indexer and search engine called WWWIsis, developed by Bireme.

Combine is technically defined as a robot program to collect web resources on the Internet. This definition matches that of a spider-type program—that is, a program that, when activated, travels the Internet (or an specified subset of it), obtaining data such as the address, the title, and more, from the Web pages it encounters, recursively, but avoiding repetition of the inspection of a certain page in the same run. Combine consists of three modules, called Cabin, Harvester, and Harvester Data Base (HDB). Cabin is the module that controls the other two; Harvester does the search, from a starting URL (uniform resource locator), and sends its findings to the HDB; the Harvester Data Base, in turn, stores the collected data in a structure of its own, waiting for a potential future process that generates the indexes.

WWWIsis, on its side, has been designed to interface the MicroISIS (textual DBMS developed by UNESCO) databases with the World Wide Web. In this project and as part of the original contributions, some programs were developed that prepare the output of the HDB from Combine in international format ISO-2709, so WWWIsis may create indexes with this information and make the search possible through words in the title, part of the text, and meta keywords on a Web page.

Other Mirador Sites

The Mirador site of El Salvador (SV) was launched officially at http://www.svnet.org.sv/mirado r/ on May 14, 1998. From this experience, and having announced it at several Central and Latin American forums, some organizations in other countries showed their interest in installing and implementing a local version in each nation.

So, on October 22, 1998, and under the sponsorship of the Red de Desarrollo Sostenible de Guatemala (Sustainable Development Network) and with the support of UCA of El Salvador, the Mirador site for Guatemala (GT) was launched, at http://www.rds.org.gt/mirador/.

Later, private enterprise Ideay of Nicaragua (NI) initiated joint efforts with UCA to install the Mirador site for Nicaragua. This site was launched at the end of July 1999 and may be found at http://buscador.ideay.net.ni/ ..

Likely, the Red de Desarrollo Sostenible de Honduras, also working jointly with UCA of El Salvador, installed and launched the Mirador site for Honduras (HN), on August 13, 1999. The address of this site is http://www.rds.org.hn/mirador/.

On September 29, 1999, in the equipment of the Red de Desarrollo Sostenible de Costa Rica, with the support of UCA, the Mirador site for Costa Rica was successfully started at http://www.rds.ucr.ac.cr/mira dor/.

By a fortuitous coincidence, just days before officially receiving the Panama Canal, on December 22, 1999, PanNet, in Panama, and thanks to support by UCA, inaugurated the Mirador site for Panama, at http://www.mirador.pannet.pa/ ..

Currently, it is hoped that soon other Mirador sites will be in cooperative work progress, and therefore other countries are invited to join this effort and initiative in favor of the growth and development of Internet in our regions.

Update: December 23, 1999

About the Author: Rafael Antonio Ibarra Fernández

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