Search: Useless Results Finally Recognized?

I cannot remember how many years ago it was since I wrote “Search Sucks” for Barbara Quint, the late editor of Searcher. I recall her comment to me, “Finally, someone in the industry speaks out.”

Flash forward a decade. I can now repeat her comment to me with some minor updating: “Finally someone recognized by the capitalist tool, Forbes Magazine, recognizes that search sucks.

The death of search was precipitated by several factors. Mentioning these after a decade of ignoring Web search still makes me angry. The failure of assorted commercial search vendors, the glacial movement of key trade associations, and the ineffectuality of search “experts” still makes me angry.

Image result for fake information

There are other factors contributing to the sorry state of Web search today. Note: I am narrowing my focus to the “free” Web search systems. If I have the energy, I may focus on the remarkable performance of “enterprise search.” But not today.

Here are the reasons Web search fell to laughable levels of utility:

  1. Google adopted the GoTo / Overture / Yahoo approach to determining relevance. This is the pay-to-play model.
  2. Search engine optimization “experts” figured out that Google allowed some fiddling with how it determined “relevance.” Google and other ad supported search systems then suggested that those listings might decay. The fix? Buy ads.
  3. Users who were born with mobile phones and flexible fingers styled themselves “search experts” along with any other individual who obtains information by looking for “answers” in a “free” Web search system.
  4. The willful abandonment of editorial policies, yardsticks like precision and recall, and human indexing guaranteed that smart software would put the nails in the coffin of relevance. Note: artificial intelligence and super duped automated indexing systems are right about 80 percent of the time when hammering scientific, technical, and engineering information. Toss is blog posts, tweets, and Web content created by people who skipped high school English and the accuracy plummets. Way down, folks. Just like facial recognition systems.

The information presented in “As Search Engines Increasingly Turn To AI They Are Harming Search” is astounding. Not because it is new, but because it is a reflection of what I call the Web search mentality.

Here’s an example:

Yet over the past few years, search engines of all kinds have increasingly turned to deep learning-powered categorization and recommendation algorithms to augment and slowly replace the traditional keyword search. Behavioral and interest-based personalization has further eroded the impact of keyword searches, meaning that if ten people all search for the same thing, they may all get different results. As search engines depreciate traditional raw “search” in favor of AI-assisted navigation, the concept of informational access is being harmed and our digital world is being redefined by the limitations of today’s AI.

The problem is not artificial intelligence.

Read more »


Exclusive: DataWalk Explained by Chris Westphal

An Interview with Chris Westphal” provides an in-depth review of a company now disrupting the analytic and investigative software landscape.

DataWalk is a company shaped by a patented method for making sense of different types of data. The technique is novel and makes it possible for analysts to extract high value insights from large flows of data in near real time with an unprecedented ease of use.

DarkCyber interviewed in late June 2019 Chris Westphal, the innovator who co-founded Visual Analytics. That company’s combination of analytics methods and visualizations was acquired by Raytheon in 2013. Now Westphal is applying his talents to a new venture DataWalk.

Westphal, who monitors advanced analytics, learned about DataWalk and joined the firm in 2017 as the Chief Analytics Officer. The company has grown rapidly and now has client relationships with corporations, governments, and ministries throughout the world. Applications of the DataWalk technology include investigators focused on fraud, corruption, and serious crimes.

Unlike most investigative and analytics systems, users can obtain actionable outputs by pointing and clicking. The system captures these clicks on a ribbon. The actions on the ribbon can be modified, replayed, and shared.

In an exclusive interview with Mr. Westphal, DarkCyber learned:

The [DataWalk] system gets “smarter” by encoding the analytical workflows used to query the data; it stores the steps, values, and filters to produce results thereby delivering more consistency and reliability while minimizing the training time for new users. These workflows (aka “easy buttons”) represent domain or mission-specific knowledge acquired directly from the client’s operations and derived from their own data; a perfect trifecta!

One of the differentiating features of DataWalk’s platform is that it squarely addresses the shortage of trained analysts and investigators in many organizations. Westphal pointed out:

…The workflow idea is one of the ingredients in the DataWalk secret sauce. Not only do these workflows capture the domain expertise of the users and offer management insights and metrics into their operations such as utilization, performance, and throughput, they also form the basis for scoring any entity in the system. DataWalk allows users to create risk scores for any combination of workflows, each with a user-defined weight, to produce an overall, aggregated score for every entity. Want to find the most suspicious person? Easy, just select the person with the highest risk-score and review which workflows were activated. Simple. Adaptable. Efficient.

Another problem some investigative and analytic system developers face is user criticism. According to Westphal, DataWalk takes a different approach:

We listen carefully to our end-user community. We actively solicit their feedback and we prioritize their inputs. We try to solve problems versus selling licenses… DataWalk is focused on interfacing to a wide range of data providers and other technology companies. We want to create a seamless user experience that maximizes the utility of the system in the context of our client’s operational environments.

For more information about DataWalk, navigate to www.datawalk.com. For the full text of the interview, click this link. You can view a short video summary of DataWalk in the July 2, 2019, DarkCyber Video available on Vimeo.

Stephen E Arnold, July 9, 2019

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