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Enterprise Search: A Problem of Relevance to the Users

I enjoy email from those who read my for fee columns. I received an interesting comment from Australia about desktop search.

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In a nutshell, the writer read one of my analyses of software intended for a single user looking for information on his local hard drives. The bigger the hard drives, the greater the likelihood, the user will operate in squirrel mode. The idea is that it is easier to save everything because “you never know.” Right, one doesn’t.

Here’s the passage I found interesting:

My concern is that with the very volatile environment where I saw my last mini OpenVMS environment now virtually consigned to the near-legacy basket and many other viable engines disappearing from Desktop search that there is another look required at the current computing environment.

I referred this person to Gaviri Search, which I use to examine email, and Effective File Search, which is useful for looking in specific directories. These suggestions sidestepped the larger issue:

There is no fast, easy to use, stable, and helpful way to look for information on a couple of terabytes of local storage. The files are a mixed bag: Excels, PowerPoints, image and text embedded PDFs, proprietary file formats like Framemaker, images, music, etc.

Such this problem was in the old days and such this problem is today. I don’t have a quick and easy fix. But these are single user problems, not an enterprise scale problem.

An hour after I read the email about my column, I received one of those frequent LinkedIn updates. The title of the thread to which LinkedIn wished to call my attention was/is: “What would you guess is behind a drop in query activity?”

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I was enticed by the word “guess.” Most assume that the specialist discussion threads on LinkedIn attract the birds with the brightest plumage, not the YouTube commenter crowd.

I navigated to the provided link which may require that you become a member of LinkedIn and then appeal for admission to the colorful feather discussion for “Enterprise Search Professionals.”

The situation is that a company’s enterprise search engine is not being used by its authorized users. There was a shopping list of ideas for generating traffic to the search system. The reason is that the company spent money, invested human resources, and assumed that a new search system would deliver a benefit that the accountants could quantify.

What was fascinating was the response of the LinkedIn enterprise search professionals. The suggestions for improving the enterprise search engine included:

  • Asking for more information about usage? (Interesting but the operative fact is that traffic is low and evident to the expert initiating the thread.)
  • A thought that the user interface and “global navigation” might be an issue.
  • The idea that an “external factor” was the cause of the traffic drop. (Intriguing because I would include the search for a personal search system described in the email about my desktop search column as an “external factor.” The employee looking for a personal search solution was making lone wolf noises to me.)
  • An former English major’s insight that traffic drops when quality declines. I was hoping for a quote from a guy like Aristotle who said, “Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” The expert referenced “social software.”
  • My tongue in cheek suggestion that the search system required search engine optimization. The question sparked sturm und drang about enterprise search as something different from the crass Web site marketing hoopla.
  • A comment about the need for users to understand the vocabulary required to get information from an index of content and “search friendly” pages. (I am not sure what a search friendly page is, however? Is it what an employee creates, an interface, or a canned, training wheels “report”?)

Let’s step back. The email about desktop search and this collection of statements about lack of usage strike me as different sides of the same information access coin.

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Interviews

Interview with Dave Hawking Offers Insight into Bing, FunnelBack and Enterprise Search

The article titled To Bing and Beyond on IDM provides an interview with Dave Hawking, an award-winner in the field of information retrieval and currently a Partner Architect for Bing. In the somewhat lengthy interview, Hawking answers questions on his own history, his work at Bing, natural language search, Watson, and Enterprise Search, among other things. At one point he describes how he arrived in the field of information retrieval after studying computer science at the Australian National University, where he the first search engine he encountered was the library’s card catalogue. He says,

“I worked in a number of computer infrastructure support roles at ANU and by 1991 I was in charge of a couple of supercomputers…In order to do a good job of managing a large-scale parallel machine I thought I needed to write a parallel program so I built a kind of parallel grep… I wrote some papers about parallelising text retrieval on supercomputers but I pretty soon decided that text retrieval was more interesting.”

When asked about the challenges of Enterprise Search, Hawking went into detail about the complications that arise due to the “diversity of repositories” as well as issues with access controls. Hawking’s work in search technology can’t be overstated, from his contributions to the Text Retrieval Conferences, CSIRO, FunnelBack in addition to his academic achievements.

Chelsea Kerwin, December 09, 2014

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, developer of Augmentext

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