Anti Search in 2011

November 1, 2010

In a recent meeting, several of the participants were charged with disinformation from the azurini.

You know. Azurini, the consultants.

Some of these were English majors, others former print journalists, and some unemployed search engine optimization experts smoked by Google Instant.

But mostly the azurini emphasize that their core competency is search, content management, or information governance (whatever the heck that means). In a month or so, there will be a flood of trend write ups. When the Roman god looks to his left and right, the signal for prognostication flashes through the fabric covered cube farms.

To get ahead of the azurini, the addled goose wants to identify the trends in anti search for 2011. Yep, anti search. Remember that in a Searcher article several years ago, I asserted that search was dead. No one believed me, of course. Instead of digging into the problems that ranged from hostile users to the financial meltdown of some high profile enterprise search vendors, search was the big deal.

And why not? No one can do a lick of work today unless that person can locate a document or “find” something to jump start activity. In a restaurant, people talk less and commune with their mobile devices. Search is on a par with food, a situation that Maslow would find interesting.

The idea for this write up emerged from a meeting a couple of weeks ago. The attendees were trying to figure out how to enhance an existing enterprise search system in order to improve the productivity of the business. The goal was admirable, but the company was struggling to generate revenues and reduce costs.The talk was about search but the subtext was survival.

The needs for the next generation search system included:

  • A great user experience
  • An iPad app to deliver needed information
  • Seamless access to Web and Intranet information
  • Google-like performance
  • Improved indexing and metatagging
  • Access to database content and unstructured information like email.

I could extend this list, but you get the idea. People at this meeting don’t want search. These attributes are anti search, and I think that is the big trend for 2011. Everyday users of online systems don’t know how to formulate a query, figure out most business intelligence reports, and have little time to invest in piecing together an “answer.” The goal is the intellectual equivalent of buying a donut when hungry. Quick, easy, and probably not good in the long run but okay for the now moment.

What is anti search?

I think it is a culmination of many experiences. People who did lousy research in college don’t become great researchers when they get a job, gain 30 pounds, and have to juggle life’s rubber balls.

Anti search, therefore, is the need for systems that are easy to use, require little intellectual effort to learn, and deliver “good enough” information. Maybe information “on training wheels” is a better way to think about anti search.


Anti search 2011 is taking root in an environment with several characteristics.

First, most organizations are struggling to contain the costs associated with search and retrieval. There are three separate cost arrows stuck in the hide of some of the organizations with which I have worked. Staff turnover in the information technology department ensures the really good people move on to better jobs leaving some folks behind who are not so good.

The second arrow is the financial pressure under which most organizations now operate. Money is tight and when money is available, information technology is not the first to receive big injections of cash.

The third bolt in the gut is the demand from users for systems that work. Not sort of work. Just work.

Fourth, incumbent vendors are working overtime to find ways to wring more cash from their existing customers. There are lots of methods and the sales tactics are not the most subtle.

What’s ahead in 2011 for anti search?

  1. Legal actions will increase in number and become more important than innovation in certain markets.
  2. The old Boolean search will mostly disappear into the woodwork. Google Places is search. Now transport that type of information access to the marketing department. Break out the paper hats and whistles.
  3. Crazy buyouts, no cash roll ups, and magician tricks will be more prevalent than in 2010. Instead of outright failure, over extended search and content processing companies will take the Attensity and Lexalytics approach—no or low cash blending of companies.
  4. Text falls farther behind video. Who wants to read? Who has time to read?
  5. Incumbent vendors will escalate cutting prices, bundling, and fancy dancing with for fee services. Think about airline fees and envision this approach in the information technology market.
  6. Open source search looks better because it comes without handcuffs. 
  7. Marketing and hyperbole will become the number one priority for some search and content processing vendors. Reality is pretty much less relevant.
  8. The need to process large volumes of data will stress existing systems, including those in the cloud. Someone has to pay for bandwidth.

I am not discounting the garage innovator who disrupts without warning, the shift to mobile devices, search boiled down to an app, modularized vertical solutions, social search, or other bright, shiny approaches.

I think search and content processing is losing ground as a standalone application. The Google Search Appliance is a case example. From the bell of the ball to a service in the cloud or the most expensive appliance at the big box store, the Google Search Appliance seems to me to be on the foot path to marginalization.

One mid tier consulting firm killed its weird and wacky competitive analysis of search vendors. Another has shifted to pushing SharePoint as the solution to user experience problems.

In my opinion, the trend for 2011 is that 2011 is the year of anti search. Honk.

Stephen E Arnold, November 1, 2010


One Response to “Anti Search in 2011”

  1. Morning Buzz — November 1, 2010 — ResearchBuzz on November 1st, 2010 7:17 am

    […] Good stuff from Stephen: Anti Search in 2011. […]

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