Search 2020: Peering into the Future of Information Access

May 22, 2015

The shift in search, user behaviors, and marketing are transforming bread-and-butter keyword search. Quite to my surprise, one of my two or three readers wrote to one of the goslings with a request. In a nutshell, the reader wanted my view of a write up which appeared in the TDWI online publication. TDWI, according to the Web site, is “your source for in depth education and research on all things data.” Okay, I can related to a categorical affirmative, education, research, and data.

The article has a title which tickles my poobah bone: “The Future of Search.” The poobah bone is the part of the anatomy which emits signals about the future. I look at a new search system based on Lucene and other open source technology. My poobah bone tingles. Lots of folks have poobah bones, but these constructs of nerves and tissues are most highly developed in entrepreneurs who invent new ways to locate information, venture capitalists who seek the next Google, and managers who are hired to convert information access into billions and billions of dollars in organic revenue.

The write up identifies three predictions about drivers on the information retrieval utility access road:

  1. Big Data
  2. Cloud infrastructure
  3. Analytics.

Nothing unfamiliar in these three items. Each shares a common characteristic: None has a definition which can be explained in a clear concise way. These are the coat hooks in the search marketers’ cloakroom. Arguments and sales pitches are placed on these hooks because each connotes a “new” way to perform certain enterprise computer processes.

But what about these drivers: Mobile access, just-in-time temporary/contract workers, short attention spans of many “workers”, video, images, and real time information requirements? Perhaps these are subsets of the Big Data, cloud, and analytics generalities, but maybe, just maybe, could these realities be depleted uranium warheads when it comes to information access?

These are the present. What is the future? Here’s a passage I highlighted:

Enterprise search in 2020 will work much differently than it does today. Apple’s Siri, IBM’s Watson, and Microsoft’s Cortana have shown the world how enterprise search and text analytics can combine to serve as a personal assistant. Enterprise search will continue to evolve from being your personal assistant to being your personal advisor.

How are these systems actually working in noisy automobiles or in the kitchen?

I know that the vendors I profiled in CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access are installing systems which perform this type of content processing. The problem is that search, as I point out in CyberOSINT, is that the function is, at best, a utility. The heavy lifting comes from collection, automated content processing, and various output options. One of the most promising is to deliver specific types of outputs to both humans and to other systems.

The future does tailor information to a person or to a unit. Organizations are composed of teams of teams, a concept now getting a bit more attention. The idea is not a new one. What is important is that next generation information access systems operate in a more nuanced manner than a list of results from a Lucene based search query.

The article veers into a interesting high school teacher type application of Microsoft’s spelling and grammar checker. The article suggests that the future of search will be to alert the system user his or her “tone” is inappropriate. Well, maybe. I turn off these inputs from software.

The future of search involves privacy issues which have to be “worked out.” No, privacy issues have been worked out via comprehensive, automated collection. The issue is how quickly organizations will make use of the features automated collection and real time processing deliver. Want to eliminate the risk of insider trading? Want to identify bad actors in an organization? One can, but this is not a search function. This is an NGIA function.

The write up touches on a few of the dozens of issues implicit in the emergence of next generation information access systems. But NGIA is not search. NGIA systems are a logical consequence of the failures of enterprise search. These failures are not addressed with generalizations. NGIA systems, while not perfect, move beyond the failures, disappointments, and constant legal hassles search vendors have created in the last 40 years.

My question, “What is taking so long?”

Stephen E Arnold, May 22, 2015


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