Featured

Search: Contentious and Increasingly Horrible

I dropped enterprise search, commercial search, and vertical search to the bottom of my “Favorite Topics” list years ago.

Why?

The individuals popping up and off at conferences were disconnected from the realities of looking for information under stressful circumstances.

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Hey, big rocks, how did you move from that quarry kilometers away and get yourselves smoothed down? Just like modern online search systems, you won’t get an answer. Finding information relevant to a query is as difficult as getting megalithic stones to become Chatty Kathies.

The thumb typing crowd, some are now in their mid forties, ASSUME that search has to think for the stupid user.

The techniques range from smart software which skews results in what are to an experienced researcher stupid ways. For those search experts concerned with making their information or their name appear number one on a results list, good search was anything that produced a top spot in a result list even if that result was stupid, irrelevant, or shameless ego jockeying. Then there are the chipper, super confident experts who emerged from an educational system which awarded those who showed up and sort of behaved a blue ribbon. Yep, everything that group does is just wonderful. Yeah, right.

You can see the consequences of two forces colliding when you read Science Magazine’s “They Redesigned PubMed, a Beloved Website. It Hasn’t Gone Over Well.”

You can work through the examples in the source article. The pain points range from appearance to search functionality.

Why did this happen?

The change is a result of people who do not have the experience of performing search under stressful conditions. No, I don’t mean locating the Cuba Libre restaurant in Washington, DC, on a Google Map. I mean looking up technical information to complete a lab test, perform a diagnosis, locate a procedure, or some similar action. There is a pandemic going on, isn’t there?

The complaints indicate that the “new” PubMed is not perceived as a home run.

Go read the original.

I want to offer several observations:

  1. Those who do research with intent need predictability; that is, when a Boolean query is entered, the results should reflect that logic. Modern systems think Boolean is stupid. There you go, a value judgment from those with “Also Participated” ribbons in high school.
  2. Interfaces should allow the user to select an approach. There are some users who like a blinking dot or a question mark. Enter the commands and get a text output. Others like the Endeca style training wheels, although I doubt if any of the modern “helper” interfaces know what Endeca offered. Other may want some other type of interface like a PhD approach; that is, push here, dummy. The point is: Why not allow the user to select the interface?
  3. Change is introduced for dark purposes. Catalina has many points of friction so that Apple can extend its span of control. Annoying? Sure is. Why doesn’t Apple tell the truth about these friction points? What? Tell the truth, are you crazy. Apple, like Facebook and Google, are doing what they can to protect their hegemony, and the user is the victim. Tough. The same logic applies to PubMed. Dollars to donuts there is a “reason” for the change, and it may be due to whimsy, money, or the need to demonstrate the team is actually doing something instead of just having meetings with contractors.

Net net: Search, as I wrote for Barbara Quint in the now departed magazine Searcher, search is dead. Each day the hope for a better, more appropriate way to locate online information becomes lost in the mists of time. Getting relevant information from PubMed or any modern systems is like trying to get the stone of Ollantaytambo to explain how the rocks moved eons ago.

Finding information today is more difficult than at any other time in my professional career. That’s a big problem.

Stephen E Arnold, May 24, 2020

Interviews

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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