Enterprise Search Lags Behind: Actionable Interfaces, Not Lists, Needed

January 22, 2015

I was reviewing the France24.com item “Paris Attacks: Tracing Shadowy Terrorist Links.” I came across this graphic:


Several information-access thoughts crossed my mind.

First, France24 presented information that looks like a simplification of the outputs generated by a system like IBM’s i2. (Note: I was an advisor to i2 before its sale to IBM.) i2 is an NGIA or next generation information access system which dates from the 1990s. The notion that crossed my mind is that this relationship diagram presents information in a more useful way than a list of links. After 30 years, I wondered, “Why haven’t traditional enterprise search systems shifted from lists to more useful information access interfaces?” Many vendors have and the enterprise search vendors that stick to the stone club approach are missing what seems to be a quite obvious approach to information access.


A Google results list with one ad, two Wikipedia item, pictures, and redundant dictionary links. Try this query “IBM Mainframe.” Not too helpful unless one is looking for information to use in a high school research paper.

Second, the use of this i2-type diagram, now widely emulated from Fast Search centric outfits like Attivio to high flying venture backed outfits like Palantir permits one click access to relevant information. The idea is that a click on a hot spot—a plus in the diagram—presents additional information. I suppose one could suggest that the approach is just a form of faceting or “Guided Navigation”, which is Endeca’s very own phrase. I think the differences are more substantive. (I discuss these in my new monograph CyberOSINT.)

Third, no time is required to figure out what’s important. i2 and some other NGIA systems present what’s important, identifies key data points, and explains what is known and what is fuzzy. Who wants to scan, click, read, copy, paste, and figure out what is relevant and what is not? I don’t for many of my information needs. The issue of “time spent searching” is an artifact of the era when Boolean reigned supreme. NGIA systems automatically generate indexes that permit alternatives to a high school term paper’s approach to research.

Little wonder why the participants in enterprise search discussion groups gnaw bones that have been chewed for more than 50 years. There is no easy solution to the hurdles that search boxes and lists of results present to many users of online systems.

France24 gets it. When will the search vendors dressed in animal skins and carrying stone tools figure out that the world has changed. Demographics, access devices, and information have moved on.

Most enterprise search vendors deliver systems that could be exhibited in the Smithsonian next to the Daystrom 046 Little Gypsy mainframe and the IBM punch card machine.

Stephen E Arnold, January 22, 2015


One Response to “Enterprise Search Lags Behind: Actionable Interfaces, Not Lists, Needed”

  1. roku private channels on January 23rd, 2015 6:48 pm

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    Enterprise Search Lags Behind: Actionable Interfaces, Not Lists, Needed : Stephen E. Arnold @ Beyond Search

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