Fast Changes: Ancient Norse Myth Becomes Reality

January 23, 2009

Fast Search & Transfer was the “Google of Scandinavia.” Its engineers–among the best in the world. The leader, Dr. John Lervik, ranked as an equal to the wizards at Autonomy, Endeca, Google, and Yahoo. He was–metaphorically speaking–a modern day version of the Norse god Thor.

Thor was the god of thunder. As a god, Thor was pretty impressive. His mistress carried an iron cutlass and was skilled in karate. Thor’s eyes (which I think meant vision and understanding) flashed lighting, er, allegedly flashed lightning since I have never seen Thor to check this out myself. Thor had everything going for him until he set out from his house in Thrudheim (maybe today’s Trondheim, the legendary place of might) to kill Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent. I think the idea is that the snake is a bad guy and Thor has to kill this creature. Short version: snake wins.

Is this Norse myth about to be reenacted? When I was in high school, I wondered how the weird stuff in myths could have been true. Now, the resignation of John Lervik (the Thor of search), may be off on a mission to kill his own Midgard Serpent. I wish him luck. I think myths have corollaries in our world.


Thor prepping for his battle with the Midgard Serpent. Source:

Mr. Lervik appears to have exited the company with which he has been closely identified for more than a decade. That’s a long time in the real world. It’s the same time that Google has been around. As Google rose after yesterday’s financial results, Microsoft Fast’s prospects appear to have dipped down.

I wonder, “Is their a connection between these two opposing curves?” What are the reasons for the departure of a high profile search wizard like Mr. Lervik? Here are my thoughts, gathered as I gaze across the murky pool of mine run off and snow melt here in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky, half a world away from the land of Thor and the Midgard Serpent.


Reasons I thought of include:

  • The police curiosity about Fast Search & Transfer’s math skills appears to be one factor.
  • The realization that Fast Search & Transfer’s technology was not the answer to some of Microsoft SharePoint search’s woes was another, making it desirable for executives to leave after a specified period of time.
  • Then there’s the Microsoft’s own financial performance, which looks anemic next to Google’s on some yardsticks’.
  • Autonomy’s surgical acquisition of Interwoven, yet another example of Autonomy out flanking Fast Search.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I remember Mr. Lervik as the person who sold Fast Search’s advertising business to Yahoo to make Fast Search one of the leading players in enterprise search. When this decision was made, Google moved the opposite direction; namely, let’s do online advertising. The Google revenue trajectory has been up. The Norwegian search company’s revenue trajectory has been down relative to Google’s. Now, with this shift in leadership in my opinion Fast Search may have reached its nadir.

You can read’s take on this here. My Norwegian is not so hot, but I think the headline runs along the line that “Lervik Throws in the Towel.” The pundits and teenage search mavens are starting to jump on this interesting development. The new boss is Bjørn Olstad, a Fast executive who is a Microsoft Distinguished Engineer. The chairman of Fast Search, according to the article, is Keith Dolliver, whom I don’t know.  Another take on this executive shake up is here.

Will this change make a substantive difference at Microsoft Fast?

In my opinion, nope. Here’s what I think will happen in the months ahead. Now I may be wrong, so be prepared for me to modify my thinking as more information becomes available to me:

  1. Microsoft Fast continues business as usual; that is, Fast Search is the solution when SharePoint hits the 50 million document limit in that collaboration and content management system. This means that Microsoft will strongly recommend Fast as the solution to SharePoint search woes.
  2. The Fast Forward conference which is “fast” approaching will be the usual good news celebration of the Fast Search system. Happy customers will demonstrate the reports, the speed, and flexibility of the Fast “platform”. Any hint of darker issues will be kept out of the spotlight. It’s a controlled user group meeting with Microsoft partners at its core. The formula is designed to produce sales and good vibes. No change here.
  3. The departure of Mr. Lervik (assuming that he is no longer involved in any way with the company) means that the “reengineering” of Fast Search will become more enthusiastic. “Reengineering” as I use the term means nerdy stuff like figuring out what to do with some Linux plumbing and also in the sense of changing the culture. Both are going to be tough, long-term tasks.

I have some questions that I want to answer:

First, what happens if the police action shifts from a passive, study approach to a more proactive approach? Will the investigation be dropped? Will the investigation expand its scope?

Second, what is the cost of supporting existing Fast Search customers as the “reengineering”, if it does occur, goes forward? Will Microsoft have the appetite to spend money to get a $1.23 billion acquisition generating a net positive financial contribution to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond? Wow, Fast Search has to pay off the acquisition cost, payoff the investment for “reengineering” (if it occurs at all), and payoff the sales and marketing cost of closing new business. There is also the cost of support for existing customers, some of which are not Microsoft centric.

Third, will competitors sit on the sidelines as Microsoft and Fast deal with the financial pressures that are mounting. And what about Googzilla?

I am glad I am semi-retired, an admitted addled goose, and not involved in what appears to be a reasonably interesting event in my experience.

My other comments about this Norse saga are identified in the links below:

  • Billing confusion plus explanations from Fast professionals here
  • Microsoft survey about Fast Search here
  • Significance of the Microsoft Fast deal here
  • Analysis and opinion about the $1.23 billion deal here
  • Comments about Autonomy being “faster” than Fast in the market here
  • Opinion about $1.23 billion deal and 45 days to develop a single Web part to hook Fast into SharePoint here
  • Reaction to initial deal announcement here
  • Comment about media coverage of the police raid on Fast offices here
  • Comment about Portfolio’s coverage of Fast Search’s woes here
  • Comment about Fast’s being charged with fraud here
  • Comment about the duality of Autonomy and Fast here
  • Comment about police raid in October 2008 here

You can obtain more information about the Fast Search technology (upsides and downsides) in my various for-fee writings. If you can’t locate one of these profiles, write me at seaky2000 at yahoo dot com, and I will provide details of the for fee version of my Microsoft Fast technical reviews.

A happy quack to my contact in Norway who alerted me to this development. I don’t do news, but I will provide additional addled goose commentary on this new chapter in Thor’s most recent Norse saga.

Stephen Arnold, January 23, 2009


2 Responses to “Fast Changes: Ancient Norse Myth Becomes Reality”

  1. » Search Engine Weekend Wrap-up Jan 25 on January 25th, 2009 7:46 am

    […] Fast Changes: Ancient Norse Myth Becomes Reality […]

  2. Search Engine Weekend Wrap-up Jan 25 | Wiadomo?ci seo on March 29th, 2010 5:29 am

    […] Fast Changes: Ancient Norse Myth Becomes Reality […]

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