This week at the MVP summit I introduced SearchTheForce.com – a new search engine for all things Salesforce.
Like most developers (and I expect Admins and users), I rely heavily on Google to find answers to questions. And by heavily I mean – heavily. The fact that I can easily search for things means I don’t have to worry about remembering them, and can concentrate instead on the problem at hand. SearchTheForce.com makes my search more efficient, in that I don’t have to be clever with my search terms to try to convince Google that I’m interested in a workflow formula instead of feeding a baby. It is my hope that others find it just as useful.
SearchTheForce.com is still Google – it uses a technology called Google Custom Search. The site also supports a feature called OpenSearch – which means that browsers recognize it as a search engine. On Chrome once you’ve visited the site you can enter a few characters like “sear” then press tab to specify a SearchTheForce.com search, and enter your query directly into the search/URL bar. On Firefox, you can add it as a search engine that is available to the search box. You can even make it your default search engine.
Right now SearchTheForce.com searches all Salesforce domains, popular Salesforce forums such as the StackExchange, and a large number of Salesforce related blogs. If there’s a site that’s missing, there’s a suggestion page where you can send in your site recommendations.
The Back Story
Many years ago, when Google first introduced custom search, I created a search engine for Microsoft .NET technologies called SearchDotNet.com. It was a great learning experience and a useful tool. A couple of months ago I received an Email from someone using that site who had a suggestion. My response was “wait, that site is still up?” I had completely forgotten about it. But it reminded me about this technology and I instantly realized that I desperately needed a custom search for Salesforce. In fact, I rather kicked myself for not having thought of this years ago.
I was also looking for a good excuse to get acquainted and reacquainted with Linux technologies – I hadn’t done any real work in Unix since the 1980’s, and wanted to refresh and update my knowledge of that technology stack. Building out SearchTheForce.com was a great excuse to do that.
The site is built on an Ubuntu server running WordPress on Nginx – based on my research that was the best way to build a high performing WordPress server. It’s running on AWS – another technology stack that I’m familiar with, but by no means an expert. Overall, it was a great learning experience, and it seems to run very efficiently on small EC2 instance.
Integrating Google Custom Search was not difficult – there are several plugins available for this on WordPress, though I confess I ended up heavily modifying the one that I used to migrate it to the current version API and to support OpenSearch. Using WordPress made it easy to implement other features like adaptable layout and the suggestion page, and will make future updates easy if necessary.
Configuring the Google Custom Search itself is easy. In fact, I discovered after the fact that there was another Salesforce custom search out there, but that’s ok – the more the merrier. In fact, if you have a site and you’d like to add SearchTheForce.com’s search to your own blog or site, drop me a line and I’ll be glad to show you how to do it.
Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy it, and next time you have a question and turn to Google for an answer, you’ll search the Force.com instead.