Loot, the London-based classified ad magazine, has redesigned its Web site in Microsoft's Visual C++ 4.2 in order to build a new search engine capable of performing parallel queries across multiple pages.
The site now includes all Loot publications, not just the London edition as was previously the case. It also carries more adverts, 70,000 a day as opposed to 17,000.
Loot explained that due to the nature of its business, the site is effectively built from thousands of small files. According to Tim Hawkins, main program designer at the Loot New Media division which created the site, commercial search engines such as Verity were not suitable for the project because they are designed to search a relatively small number of large documents, rather than a large number of small documents.
Loot got round the problem by writing its own free-text search engine using Visual C++ and its own database management system.
"Visual C++ was an obvious choice because it provides MFC classes designed for the Web," said Hawkins.
He added that while Loot traditionally used Unix it chose Microsoft technology for its Web site because "Unix is far too complex to manage". The Microsoft technology included Windows NT Server and the Internet Information Server which is included free. "We use IIS because it is the faster Web server we found," said Hawkins.
The whole site is run on a single Compaq ProLiant 4500 running at 150MHz and equipped with 2Gb of disk space. It takes up around 400Kb of disk space. Each night, Loot sends the ads to be included in the on-line edition over a 2Mbit leased-line from its London, Nottingham and Manchester offices to the Compaq machine at its head office.
The Pages for the site are created in Microsoft's FrontPage, which according to Hawkins, generates HTML files that are around 35% larger than Web pages created by hand, resulting in a performance hit. Loot addressed the problem by developing software which strips out the extra spaces FrontPage creates in the HTML files.
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