The Searchable Site

How to use Webglimpse to search and add search-based ads to your site.

Back when I was a curious undergrad, I attended a seminar on a tiny imaginary creature called Maxwell's Demon. This clever beastie can make an engine run off hot air, but only if it knows the location and speed of all the hot air molecules. Essentially, the Demon transforms knowledge into energy (strictly speaking, information plus heat into work, or usable energy). I think the Demon stuck in my mind because it demonstrated in a physical way the value of information, especially organized information.

A Web site rich in useful content attracts visitors because of its valuable information. Adding a search engine multiplies that value. And, what if you don't have your own content-rich site? Do you have, perhaps, a collection of favorite bookmarks on a particular subject? Using Webglimpse, you can create a form on your own Web site that allows users to search those Web sites. Now your work of researching and selecting those high-quality, subject-specific sites you bookmarked can help attract visitors to your own site. In this article, I describe how to use Webglimpse to enable users to search the content of your chosen Web sites, and how to generate ad revenue quickly from your traffic.

The Webglimpse Story

Webglimpse is a creature of several parts: a spider and manager, written in Perl, and Glimpse, the core indexing/search algorithm written in C. Glimpse was created first, by Udi Manber and Sun Wu, Computer Science professors who wanted to apply the neat new search algorithm for finding fuzzy patterns that they had developed (and released as agrep) when Sun Wu was Manber's student. Glimpse was originally written in 1993 as “a tool to search entire filesystems”, useful for people who have ever misplaced a file or old e-mail message somewhere on their hard drive.

Webglimpse was wrapped around Glimpse a few years later, as a way to apply the powerful searching and indexing algorithms to the task not of searching the entire Web, but of combining browsing and searching on individual Web sites. Written by grad students Pavel Klark and Michael Smith, Webglimpse introduced the notion of searching the “neighborhood” of a Web page, or the set of pages linked from that page. Meanwhile, Manber and another student, Burra Gopal, continued to add features and refine Glimpse to make it optimally useful in its new context.

I arrived on the scene at about this point. I'd just quit my job debugging assembly network code at Artisoft in order to start my own company doing something with discovery and categorization of information on the Internet. In the early Web of 1996, Webglimpse stood out as the most promising search tool. It was newborn and still rough around the edges, so when Udi Manber accepted my offer to help with the project, my first job was to rewrite the install. I became more and more involved with Webglimpse, adding features and supporting users, and in January 2000 the University of Arizona granted my company exclusive license to resell it. I didn't feel I could make Webglimpse my primary focus and still make a living if it were open source, but I did make the decision always to distribute all the source code and to keep it free for most nonprofits. As a result, many users were willing to provide feedback and patches, and I was able to provide free, even resalable, licenses to anyone who helped with the project.

Making It Work

Having been around for many years, Webglimpse runs on almost any Linux version and configuration. The only real prerequisites are a Web server with Perl 5.004 or above and shell access to that server.

Full details regarding installation are available on the Webglimpse home page (see the on-line Resources), so I mention only a few tips here. If you find Webglimpse already installed on your system, check the version. Most of the preinstalled copies out there are old (v. 1.6, circa 1998), and it's likely you have rights to upgrade. The simplest way to check the version of Webglimpse is to run a search and view the source of the results page. The version number is in a comment line at the beginning of the search results.

At the time of this writing, Webglimpse 3.0 is beta testing a new FTP-only install. You can try this version, or install the older 2.0 if you have SSH access to your server. To go the SSH route, first download trial version tarballs from the site. Follow the Installation Instructions linked at the top of the download page, which tell you first to compile and install glimpse by the usual steps:

make install

then to install Webglimpse by running its installation script:


The script walks you through the usual choices as to installation directory and where to put the cgi scripts. It also tries to parse an Apache configuration file if it finds one, and it confirms with you the key Domain name and DocumentRoot settings for your server. Because Webglimpse can index local files on your hard drive and map them to URLs, it needs to know how to translate filesystem paths to URLs. This is such a key point that in the Web administration interface, there is a screen devoted to testing URL→file and file→URL translations to make sure it is set up correctly.

Other settings during the install are security-related. In order for the archive manager to run from the Web, the directory where archives are placed needs to be Web-writable. The most secure way to do this is not to make it world-writable, but rather owned by the Web user, which is the user name that your Web server runs as. Most often this is www or nobody. You can tell by examining the process list:

ps aux | grep httpd


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