Boston Search Engine Meeting, Day Two

April 30, 2008

The most important news on Day Two of Infonortics’ Boston Search Engine Meeting was the announcement of the “best paper awards” for 2008. The Evvie–named in honor of Ev Brenner–one of the leaders in online information systems and functions–was established after Mr. Brenner’s death in 2006. Mr. Brenner served on the program committee for the Boston Search Engine Meeting since its inception almost 20 years ago. Mr. Brenner had two characteristics that made his participation a signature feature of each year’s program. He was willing to tell a speaker or paper author to “add more content” and after a presentation, Mr. Brenner would ask a presenter one or more penetrating questions that helped make a complex subject more clear.

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, the Evvie is an attempt to keep Mr. Brenner’s push for excellence squarely in the minds of the speakers and the conference attendees.

This year’s winners are:

  • Best paper: Charles Clarke, University of Waterloo. His paper “XML Retrieval: Problems and Potential” explained that XML (Extensible Markup Language) is no panacea. Properly used, XML systems create new ways to make search more useful to users. He received a cash prize and an engraved Evvie award.
  • Runner up: Richard Brath, Oculus, for his paper “Search, Sense-Making and Visual User Interfaces”. In this paper, Mr. Brath demonstrated that user interface becomes as important as the underlying content processing functions for search. He received an engraved Evvie award.

evvie 2008

Left: Richard Brath (Oculus), center: Stephen E. Arnold (ArnoldIT.com), right: Charles Clarke (University of Waterloo).

This year’s judges were Dr. Liz Liddy, Syracuse University, Dr. David Evans, Just Systems (Tokyo), and Sue Feldman, IDC Content Technologies Group. Dr. Liddy heads the Center for Natural Language Processing. Dr. Evans, founder of Clairvoyance, is one of the foremost authorities on search. Ms. Feldman is one of the leading analysts in the search, content processing, and information access market sector. Congratulations to this year’s Evvie winners.

More Conference News

Four presentations sparked discussion at the breaks and over lunch.

  • Edwin Cooper (InQuira) provided a useful analysis of the differences between Web search and behind-the-firewall search. He asserted that going forward, these two branches of search would continue to diverge. One surprise in Mr. Cooper’s presentation was the inclusion of a quotation from ArnoldIT.com about the terminal condition of some enterprise search solutions.
  • Brad Allen (Siderean) delivered an insightful look at the functions that rich content processing delivers to developers, system administrators, and users. References were made in passing to Siderean’s system, the demonstration of Oracle Corp.’s use of the Siderean technology to deliver one-click access to real-time information was a look into the future of enterprise information access. You can read more about the Siderean system in Beyond Search, my new study of behind-the-firewall information access systems and on the Siderean Web site. In my study, I identified Siderean as a vendor to watch.
  • Chris Cleveland (Dieselpoint) described his firm’s open source Open Pipeline system. The presentation was a very good summary of how to move content from its native form into XML. Dieselpoint’s own commercial system was mentioned in passing, and one attendee praised Mr. Cleveland for his discussion of an open source solution.
  • Kelly Stirman (MarkLogic) walked the audience through the MarkLogic server and its core functionality. Then Mr. Stirman dropped a demonstration of MarkLogic’s email service. Still in beta, the system allows a user to explore on time, topic, and other dimensions information in email or newsgroup postings. The demonstration brought to life the value of XML and the usefulness of innovative, yet intuitive interface features.

Take Aways

My take aways from this year’s conference are:

  1. The Boston Search Engine Meeting continues to differentiate itself from the ever-increasing number of conferences focused on information access in two ways: [a] the organizer welcomes technical discussions of topics that often get little attention amidst the marketing and sales blather that passes for a presentation elsewhere and [b] the willingness of the attendees to ask technical questions and probe until the presenter meets an issue straight on. For example, in my discussion of a single Google patent application, this year’s Evvie winner asked, “Are patent applications predictors of a company’s future actions?” I answered directly, “No.” This type of audience merits kudos in my opinion.
  2. The notion of key word search is simply not a driver in the information access and content processing space. Larger concerns are extraction and meaningful use of metadata. Furthermore, making it possible for an end user to locate information is becoming increasingly important. The search box is not going to disappear, but it was clear to me that different types of interfaces and result outputs will be coming at a faster pace throughout 2008.
  3. Established vendors–that is, those with publicly traded shares or those who have spent substantial sums building their brand, sales staff, and public relations flaks–were falling behind on the “credibility curve”. At the breaks, there was considerable off-the-record criticism of brand name vendors whose systems were too complicated to make work, too expensive to scale, or too clumsy to respond to the needs of their licensees.
  4. Google did not attend. Nevertheless, the company was the elephant in the conference hall. A number of speakers mentioned Google. In my presentation I showed an illustration from a Google patent application that assembled information in the Google index into a dossier. Hopefully, the GOOG will participate in the conference in 2009 so it can directly respond to its critics of which there are a growing number. For example, I had no way to explain Google’s intention with its system and method for taking information about Michael Jackson, the celebrity, and showing his aliases, details about this life, and a hot link to a map of his residence.,

Stephen Arnold, April 30, 2008

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