Microsoft: Another Search Guru

September 30, 2008

Kara Swisher, Boom Town scoopette extraordinaire, reports another change in Microsoft search management. Her “Yusuf Mehdi Get a Big New Job at MSN-But Still No Digital Head in Sight”. You can read this well-crafted article here. Ms. Swisher points out that Mr. Mehdi is now part of a “troika” that consists of Brian McAndrews and Satya Nadella. For me the most interesting point in her article was:

Who will lead this three-headed beast is still unknown–both Mehdi and McAndrews have been considered the top internal candidates to lead the online properties group, which has been struggling for direction after Microsoft’s failed takeover of Yahoo (YHOO).

My take on this is that I need a score card to keep track of who has responsibility for what search business at Microsoft. Missing from this is the Fast Search & Transfer management team. Despite Fast Search’s colorful enterprise search past, the company still has a core competence in Web search. Is there a pipeline from the brains in Norway to Redmond? In my youth, sluggish systems would often be improved by throwing hardware at the problem. For Microsoft, I am starting to form the view that Redmond is throwing people at the problem.

Each day, the gap widens between Google and Microsoft. The bridge to close the gap won’t be built of management timber. A different approach is needed; for example, a leap frog solution.

Stephen Arnold, September 30, 2008

Silobreaker: Mary Ellen Bates’ Opinion Is on Target

September 30, 2008

Mary Ellen Bates is one sharp information professional. She moved from Washington, DC, to the sunny clime in Colorado. The shift from the nation’s capital (the US crime capital) to the land of the Prairie Lark Finch has boosted her acumen. Like me, she finds much goodness in the service. (You can read an interview with one of the founders of here.) Writing in the September number of Red Orbit here she said:

What Silobreaker does particularly well is provide you with visual displays of information, which enable you to spot trends or relationships that might not be initially obvious. Say, for example, you want to find out about transgenic research. Start with what Silobreaker calls the “360[degrees] search,” which looks across its indexes, including fields for entities (people, companies, locations, organizations, industries, and keywords), news stories, YouTube videos, blog postings, and articles.

If you want to try Silobreaker yourself, click here. With Ms. Bates in the wilds of Colorado and me in a hollow in rural Kentucky, I am gratified that news about next-generation information services reaches us equally. A happy quack to Silobreaker and Ms. Bates.

Stephen Arnold, September 30, 2008

Google and the NSA: An Alleged Document

September 30, 2008

I don’t have any comment about this document, which appears to contain information about Google and the puzzle palace. Oh, I’m sorry the National Security Agency or NSA. You can read Google Blogoscoped’s comments here. The addled goose doesn’t dip its beak into the se waters. If you are hungrier than this water fowl, have at it. My view on these alleged tie ups between information literate companies and government agencies is that I don’t want to be involved. If you really want to get the inside scoop, fly into BWI Airport, rent a car, and drive on down to the nerve center of the puzzle palace. Lots of friendly people around. I’m sure you will get some useful information. Just don’t push those goose feathers to me.

Stephen Arnold, September 30, 2008

Free SharePoint Search Server 2008 Express Adds More Free Resources

September 30, 2008

Yes, you read the headline correctly. The free version of SharePoint search just received a fix up from the Microsoft spruce up garage. The information appeared on the Microsoft SMB Community Blog here. You can sign up for a seminar. You can get free information. And you can gain access to resources. If you are one of the 100 million licensees or one of the users of the free search system, check out the new goodies. I did not find this announcement new, but Microsoft knows more than I do. With a price you can’t beat, Microsoft is definitely serious about getting into the search game. Enjoy your SharePoint experience.

Stephen Arnold, September 20, 2008

New for SharePoint

September 30, 2008

I responded positively to this ComputerWorld headline, “Microsoft SharePoint Gets Search, File Sharing Features.” You can read John Fontana’s story here. I eagerly clicked, dismissed the dorky pop up advertisement, and read the story. No joy. Yes, the article is well written, but Microsoft did not address some of the modest shortcomings of SharePoint. Nope. Third party vendors have rolled out gizmos to convert Tagged Image File Format images to ASCII and an outfit has rolled out yet another tool to make access controls more intuitive than Microsoft’s approach. If either of these software gadgets rings your bell, you should read the story and get out your credit card. For me, I will wait for Microsoft to roll out its own fixes to SharePoint. The company took possession of Fast Search & Transfer in April 2008. Some hot stuff will be coming out any day now.

Stephen Arnold, September 30, 2008

Nine Reasons Why Enterprise Search Is Sinking

September 30, 2008

I’ve been thinking about the distribution of attendees at a recent combo trade show I attended. I won’t name the show, and instead I want to focus on summarizing the comments made to me by attendees and exhibitors. I’ve chosen to present this list in terms of enterprise search but it applies to content management and knowledge management as well.

  1. When people say “search”, the people are not talking about key word and Boolean queries. Search is in trouble, therefore, because of the assumptions about the meaning of the term. Just as in high school debate, definition of terms is the first step. Get this wrong and you have the craters that pock mark the enterprise landscape.
  2. Search looks easy but is not. I’m not sure if we can pin this on Google. The company uses kindergarten colors and a very simple interface. The user thinks, “Wow, this is easy.” Search in the organization is rocket science, yet no one believes it until projects become problems and budgets run wild. Misjudge complexity and you pay, and pay big.
  3. Vendors make sales. Vendors are not college professors who educate you. As a result, I hear such statements as “The vendor told me x, y, and z.” Well, what do you expect. Search sales professionals move around more than the Dallas Cowboys defensive secondary. The vendors want to generate revenues, not experts in search. So, customers have to know about search, ask the appropriate questions, and know when goose feathers or giblets are served up.
  4. Internal information technology wizards assume that search is a no brainer. As a result, the internal wizards nap during training or skip it, ignore advice of consultants, and dismiss cautions from the vendors’ engineers about infrastructure. When the search system fires up, the system falls over. The IT professionals say, “Hey, not my problem.” I beg to differ. IT professionals need to learn to listen. If most of these engineers were Google or Microsoft R&D grade, the engineers would be–you know what’s coming–working at Google or Microsoft or involved in rocket science. My thought, “Skip the genius pitch and learn how to make search work before deploying the system.”
  5. Users. Accept this: Users cannot accurately and completely tell you what they need and will use for information access. You have to conduct research, offer demonstrations, and provide proofs-of-concept. Skip these steps and the most influential person in the organization will hear from Timmy or Becky that “Our search system still does not meet out needs.” Research, communication, and involvement are essential. Skip these steps and you will fall off the tight rope into the abyss; that is, you will sit in your cube and the email chime won’t sound. You are excluded.

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Autonomy: Nosing into Customer Support

September 30, 2008 reported today (September 29, 2008) that Autonomy signed a deal with Telerx. Telerx is a vendor of automated systems that capture, process, and analyze customer interactions with a company. You can read Raju Shanbhag’s write up here. Autonomy is providing some of its analytics technology to Telerx. And, according to Mr. Shanbhag:

Autonomy’s innovative monitoring tools will be used by Telerx to maintain and enhance the quality of its interactions. This will ensure that its clients’ customers continue to receive the best possible service.

You can get more information about Telerx here. The company has its US headquarters in lovely Horsham, Pennsylvania with other offices in Canada, the Philippines, and Panama (I think?).

You can get information about Autonomy’s analytics sub systems here. If you have never seen an Autonomy analytics dash board, I found an old screen capture I snagged from an Autonomy white paper a year ago. Here’s a peek at what a licensee can do with the analytics system. This is a “heat map” visualization manipulating data from the Autonomy analytics sub system. Red means important; green, not so important. Click on a segment of the map and you see the underlying data. Some folks love these visualizations. I can take them or leave them.


© Autonomy 2006

As an aside, at the recent Enterprise Search Summit in San Jose, a person (who shall remain nameless) wanted to know why I don’t “beat up on” Autonomy. I thought this was an interesting coincidence because someone wrote me an email a week or so before the conference. The answer is, I suppose, is that I beat up on the vendors equally. I’m on record as a strong critic of enterprise and content management in general. I write about vendors to capture a time line of news and to create a digital diary for myself. I use the Web log format because it’s easy, and I can find references on it pretty easily with the search system.

Today I “beat up on” Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones, and an individual person writing a Web log article about the incidence of failure in start ups. I am trying to spread my brand of personal writing around, but I think I am just inclined to focus on issues that strike me as interesting. Instead of saying, “Have a nice day”, I try to look at what must be done to get another angle on an issue. So, when I “beat up on” a company, I am really in “learn mode” and I don’t really have much emotion for or against the companies, people, or ideas I tackle in the Web log.

I will tell you one thing. Autonomy seems to be a step ahead of many other vendors in the search and content processing space. Take that either as praise (making money in a narrow and declining segment) or criticism (a company trying to escape from the confines of search). Your decision. I’m neutral and just reporting another “contract win” that popped into my news reader.

Stephen Arnold, September 30, 2008

Dow Jones and Automatic Taxonomy Generation

September 30, 2008

An eager beaver reader (I only have two or three) sent me a link to “Taxonomies for Human Vs Auto-Indexing.” The author of the Synaptica Central write up is Wendy Lim. She is summarizing or reproducing information attributed to Heather Hedden. From a bibliographic angle, I think a tad more work could be done to make clear who was writing what, where, and when. But that’s an old, failed database goose quacking about the brilliant work done by “experts” decades younger than I. Quack. Quack.

You can read the September 26, 2008, write up here. The article is about a Taxonomy Bootcamp. After a bit of sleuthing, I discovered that this is an add on to some Information Today trade shows. The bootcamp, as I understand it, is an intellectual Camp Lejune except the that the attendees skip the push ups, the 5 am wake up calls, and the 20 mile runs. Over a period of two or three days, taxonomy recruits emerge battle ready, honed to deal with the intellectual rigors of creating taxonomies.


A real taxonomy. Source:

The word “taxonomy” is more popular than “enterprise search” and for good reason. Enterpriser search has emerged from organizations with a bold 4F stamped on its fitness report. After hours, maybe months of work, and some hefty bills to pay, enterprise search customers are looking for a way to kill the enterprise search enemy. That’s where a taxonomy comes it. I’m no expert in taxonomies. I know I was involved in creating taxonomies for some once-hot commercial databases like ABI / INFORM, Business Dateline, General Business File, Health Reference Center, and the 1993 Web direct Point (Top 5% of the Internet). What those experiences taught me was that I don’t know too much about taxonomies or classification systems in general for that matter. I keep in touch with people who do know; for example, Marje Hlava at Access Innovations, Barbara Quint (Searcher Magazine), Marydee Ojala (Online Magazine), Ulla de Stricker (De Stricker & Associates), and other specialists. I get nervous when a 20- or 30-something explains that taxonomies are not big deal or that a business process can crack a taxonomy problem or a certain vendor’s software can auto-magically create a taxonomy.

tag cloud

A Synaptica Central tag cloud.

In my experience, the truth is not to be found in any one solution. In fact, the reality of taxonomies is that the concept has gained traction because of fundamental errors in planning and deploying information access systems. I don’t think a taxonomy can retrofit stupid, short sighted decisions. For that reason, I steer clear of most taxonomy discussions because after working with these beasts for more than 30 years, I understand their unpredictable behavior.

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Google Video for Business

September 29, 2008

I saw a reference to Google Video for Business in CIO Magazine. The story “Google Blows Double Bubble with Video Collaboration and Browser Announcements” by Martin Veitch here pointed me to this Google page. The Google Video for Business information is a page down or two here. From my point of view, this is one more component of Google’s expanding business services. If I hear one more person tell me that Google is a search and ad company, I may get a T shirt made that says, “Google is an application platform.” Some of the video goodness in this new service include:

  • Cloud service
  • Secure sharing
  • Authorized users can upload videos

Google has even prepared a Googley video to explain this service. Oh, yes, search is part of the package. Clever companies have been uploading videos to and using cute names to allow employees and customers to locate the videos. This new service may not change that practice unless Googzilla chomps at those savvy YouTubers.

Stephen Arnold, September 29, 2008

Thomson Reuters and Open Source

September 29, 2008

Update, September 30, 2008: Thomson Reuters news story about the Thomson Reuters’ Zotero matter is here. I quite like the symmetry of this TR to TR sequence. That’s the way to do news, you graduate students.

Original Post

Despite a Googler trying to speak with me after my statement “Google has won the battle of online for 2009,” I admire the company. Like any publicly traded company, the GOOG has to be mindful of its shareholders. Googzilla can stomp on some flower gardens but in general, Google is muddling along with its “someone else pays” business model. Heck, Googzilla has released some–not all–of its goodies to the open source free for all. The Google MySQL is one example; some mobile technology is another.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the Slashdot link to this article “Thomson Reuters Sues over Open Source Endnote Alike Zotero“. You can find the Slashdot item here and the original article here. Years ago I gave a lecture at the University of Michigan. The professor who set up the lecture was working on a footnote tool, and he showed me an early prototype. Then a couple of years later, an entrepreneur in California showed me a similar tool. I lost track of this category of software because [a] I’m not a student or professor who writes scholarly or semi-scholarly papers and [b] when I needed tools to manage footnotes, I had tools that people sent me to test.

Thomson Reuters wants to stop the developer of a Firefox add in to help Firefox users create footnotes. Okay, I think I can see the value of this add in if I were a student and had zero money, did not know about freeware, or did not have an angle to get a software vendor to give me a copy of the software to test. The idea that a company like Thomson Reuters feels sufficiently threatened to get the court to stop someone from distributing a Firefox add in triggers several thoughts. Now keep in mind that I am an addled goose, not a scholar, generally anti-monopoly, and opinionated. Here are my personal thoughts and opinions:

  1. The action against Zotero caused me to download and install the add in. I wanted to see what the fuss was about, and I might even be motivated to put a footnote into one of my forthcoming non-scholarly monographs and reports. What great publicity for Firefox, Zotero, and the other programmers who want to poke Goliath in the nose
  2. I looked into the commercial footnote software and it sure looked to me as if Thomson Reuters is trying to round up the herd, brand the cows, and sell their software at a considerably higher price than Zotero. Zotero is free, so you can calculate the difference yourself pretty easily.
  3. This type of action is illustrative of the difference between a traditional media company (which Thomson Reuters is despite all the fancy tap dancing) and outfits like Google. Google’s business model allows the company to provide high value services like Google Maps without a fee. Try to get a Thomson Reuters’ product for free, and you will find that its business model is 180 degrees opposite from Google’s. That’s why Thomson Reuters wants to stop Zotero in its tracks. The Thomson Reuters business model dictates the action, and the company has not other ways to make enough dough to stay afloat.

The net net of this is great PR for Firefox, more work for legal eagles, and another example of why traditi0onal media, including professional publishing companies, are in a long, slow decline. Now what will happen if the GOOG puts a footnote function into Google Docs, or, better yet, in the Chrome framework. I wouldn’t be surprised in Thomson Reuters would find itself in court spending big bucks to prevent Google from doing pretty much what Google wants to do. Exciting stuff to consider.

Stephen Arnold, September 29, 2008

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