Sprout Lacks an Idol Function

October 22, 2014

I read “HP Will Unveil new Computing Product Called Sprout Next Week.” I am not sure I understand a multi function device that combines a touch screen, an overhead projector, and a 3D scanner. Why? An important function is missing.’

Where is Autonomy Idol? It’s a multi billion dollar technology wonder. A “Powered by Idol” would be a nice marketing touch.

Shortly after the acquisition, I heard that HP wanted to embed Autonomy Idol in a range of devices. Well, after three years, why isn’t Idol included in Sprout?

I can envision the late night TV ad now. I want to see a touch screen, overhead projector, and 3D scanner promoted as the next American Idol.

Stephen E Arnold, October 22, 2014

Gartner and Enterprise Video Content Management

October 19, 2014

I read “Panopto Recognized as a “Leader” in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Video Content Management.” I learned that Panopto is a “leader” in the mid tier consulting firm’s league table of enterprise video content management vendors.

According to the write up,

In use at Fortune 500 companies and leading academic institutions worldwide, Panopto is the only video platform that provides organizations with an integrated, off-the-shelf solution for video recording, live streaming, video management, and inside-video search. Within the enterprise, Panopto is being used to improve sales enablement, streamline employee onboarding, scale corporate training, and simplify the delivery of executive communications.  Within universities, Panopto is the fastest-growing solution for flipping the classroom, capturing lectures, and streaming campus events.

For many years, I have pointed out that locating information in a large collection of videos remains a dicey proposition. Years ago I explored Exalead’s video search system. It worked, but it imposed hefty computational burdens on system resources. Perhaps that has changed under Dassault’s stewardship? I wonder if the Exalead system could be used to manage an organization’s video? I don’t know, and the company does not appear in the Gartner version of the Boston Consulting Group’s matrix.

Another possible omission is Autonomy’s line up of video management and findability tools. I recall seeing a demonstration of a system with the “powered by IDOL” label. Has Autonomy withdrawn from the field of video play?

In our ongoing investigation of Google technology, we learned that it is easy to use YouTube as a convenient, low cost video management system. But no Google in the BCG inspired matrix.

I don’t know too much about video management, but when I scanned the graphic available from this link, I noticed these companies’ absence?

The inclusion of some products/companies with which I was not familiar was interesting; for example, Perceptive Software (part of Lexmark and owner of ISYS test search). The separate entries and Kulu Valley and Qumu struck me as an anomaly. Qumu, I believe, owns Kulu. Does 1 + 1 = a super leader or is this an oversight or just a failure to update?

Congratulations to Panopto. But in the back of my mind there is a reason why some consultancies lag behind McKinsey, BCG, and the pre-break up Booz, Allen & Hamilton. Mentioning “mid tier” reminds me of IDC’s sale of my content on Amazon without my permission under the “expert” Dave Schubmehl’s name.

Stephen E Arnold, October 18, 2014

Open Source Search and Kicking the Bukkit

October 15, 2014

There is a presentation “Kicking the Bukkit: Anatomy of an Open Source Meltdown” by Ryan Michela, a developer with experience in open source. Over several years, a game open source project rose and fell. I am not too interested in open source games. At the end of the Slideshare document, there are five reasons an open source game project failed.

Let me summarize these and encourage you to work through he full 55 slide deck. How many of these issues may have an impact on open source search systems. Keep in mind that commercial enterprises like Attivio and IBM make use of open source technology.

  1. Inclusion of decompiled code in an open source project
  2. License issues
  3. Ties ups within the community before a project gains momentum
  4. No contributor license agreement
  5. Disgruntled developers in the community.

The presentation includes a quote that I noted:

It only takes one unhappy developer to kill an unprotected project.

Is there an open source search company vulnerable to one or more of these issues? I can name a couple. I wonder if the firm’s funding sources are concerned about their investment “kicking the bucket”?

Stephen E Arnold, October 15, 2014

The AIIM Enterprise Search Study 2014

October 10, 2014

I worked through the 34 page report “Industry Watch. Search and Discovery. Exploiting Knowledge, Minimizing Risk.” The report is based on a sampling of 80,000 AIIM community members. The explanation of the process states:

Graphs throughout the report exclude responses from organizations with less than 10 employees, and suppliers of ECM products and services, taking the number of respondents to 353.

The demographics of the sample were tweaked to discard responses from organizations with fewer than 10 employees. The sample included respondents from North America (67 percent), Europe (18 percent) and “rest of world” (15 percent).

Some History for the Young Reader of Beyond Search

AIIM has roots in imaging (photographic and digital imaging). Years ago I spent an afternoon with Betty Steiger, a then well known executive with a high profile in Washington, DC’s technology community. She explained that the association wanted to reach into the then somewhat new technology for creating digital content. Instead of manually indexing microfilm images, AIIM members would use personal computers. I think we connected in 1982 at her request. My work included commercial online indexing, experiments in full text content online, a CD ROM produced in concert with Predicasts’ and Lotus, and automated indexing processes invented by Howard Flank, a sidekick of mine for a very long time. (Mr. Flank received the first technology achievement award from the old Information Industry Association, now the SIIA).

AIIM had its roots in the world of microfilm. And the roots of microfilm reached back to University Microfilms at the close of World War II. After the war, innovators wanted to take advantage of the marvels of microimaging and silver-based film. The idea was to put lots of content on a new medium so users could “find” answers to questions.

The problem for AIIM (originally the National Micrographics Association) was indexing. As an officer at a company considered in the 1980 as one of the leaders in online and semi automated indexing methods, Ms. Steiger and I had a great deal to discuss.

But AIIM evokes for me:

Microfilm —> Finding issues —> Digital versions of microfilm —> CD ROMs —> On premises online access —> Finding issues.

I find the trajectory of a microfilm leading to pronouncements about enterprise search, content processing, and eDiscovery fascinating. The story of AIIM is a parallel for the challenges the traditional publishing industry (what I call the “dead tree method”) has, like Don Quixote, galloped, galloped into battle with ones and zeros.

Asking a trade association’s membership for insights about electronic information is a convenient idea. What’s wrong with sampling the membership and others in the AIIM database, discarding those who belong to organizations with fewer than 10 employees, and tallying up the survey “votes.” For most of those interested in search, absolutely nothing. And that may be part of the challenge for those who want to get smart about search, findability, and content processing.

Let’s look at three findings from the 30 plus page study. (I have had to trim because the number of comments and notes I wrote when reading the report is too massive  for Beyond Search.)

Finding: 25 percent have no advanced or dedicated search tools. 13 percent have five or more [advanced or dedicated search tools].

Talk about good news for vendors of findability solutions. If  one thinks about the tens of millions of organizations in the US, one just discards the 10 percent with 10 or fewer employees, and there are apparently quite a large percentage with simplistic tools. (Keep in mind that there are more small businesses than large businesses by a very wide margin. But that untapped market is too expensive for most companies to penetrate with marketing messages.) The study encourages the reader to conclude that a bonanza awaits the marketer who can identify these organizations and convince them to acquire an advanced or dedicated search tool. There is a different view. The research Arnold IT (owner of Beyond Search) has conducted over the last couple of decades suggests that this finding conveys some false optimism. For example, in the organizations and samples with which we have worked, we found almost 90 percent saturation of search. The one on one interviews reveal that many employees were unaware of the search functions available for the organization’s database system or specialized tools like those used for inventory, the engineering department with AutoCAD, or customer support. So, the search systems with advanced features are in fact in most organizations. A survey of a general population reveals a market that is quite different from what the chief financial officer perceives when he or she tallies up the money spent for software that includes a search solution. But the problems of providing one system to handle the engineering department’s drawings and specifications, the legal departments confidential documents, the HR unit’s employee health data, and the Board of Director’s documents revealing certain financial and management topics have to remain in silos. There is, we have found, neither an appetite to gather these data nor the money to figure out how to make images and other types of data searchable from a single system. Far better to use a text oriented metasearch system and dismiss data from proprietary systems, images, videos, mobile messages, etc. We know that most organizations have search systems about which most employees know nothing. When an organization learns about these systems and then gets an estimate to creating one big federated system, the motivation drains from those who write the checks. In our research, senior management perceives aggregation of content as increasing risk and putting an information time bomb under the president’s leather chair.

Finding:  47% feel that universal search and compliant e-discovery is becoming near impossible given the proliferation of cloud share and collaboration apps, personal note systems and mobile devices. 60% are firmly of the view that automated analytics tools are the only way to improve classification and tagging to make their content more findable.

The thrill of an untapped market fades when one considers the use of the word “impossible.” AIIM is correct in identifying the Sisyphean tasks vendors face when pitching “all” information available via a third party system. Not only are the technical problems stretching the wizards at Google, the cost of generating meaningful “unified” search results are a tough nut to crack for intelligence and law enforcement entities. In general, some of these groups have motivation, money, and expertise. Even with these advantages, the hoo hah that many search and eDiscovery vendors pitch is increasing potential customers’ skepticism. The credibility of over-hyped findability solutions is squandered. Therefore, for some vendors, their marketing efforts are making it more difficult for them to close deals and causing a broader push back against solutions that are known by the prospects to be a waste of money. Yikes. How does a trade association help its members with this problem? Well, I have some ideas. But as I recall, Ms. Steiger was not too thrilled to learn about the nitty gritty of shifting from micrographics to digital. Does the same characteristic exist within AIIM today? I don’t know.

Read more

Google Blamed for Problems in Enterprise Search

October 7, 2014

Google, believe it or not, is responsible in part for the problems with enterprise search. The idea is advanced in “Why the “Google Paradigm” Has Damaged Enterprise Search.” The core of the argument is that people use Google for Web search. The resulting perception is that “enterprise search is as easy as Google web search, and that a central index of an enterprise is the right way to do enterprise search. ”

Google’s entrance into enterprise search was one of the companies earliest attempts to enter a market in which revenue came from a subscription or license, not a fee for advertising. The Google Search Appliance was a server loaded with a version of Google’s Web search system. Based on our work with the first GSA, it was clear that like many other Google products and services from the 2001 to 2004 period, Google was operating on some Googley assumptions; for example:

  • Google assumed that a version of its Web search system stripped of its ad matching was good enough for finding textual content in an organization
  • The company assumed that Autonomy, Endeca, and Fast Search & Transfer, the dominant enterprise search vendors at this time were too complex for most technical staff in an organization. The time and complexity of these systems contributed to the high user dissatisfaction with these systems. The high cost of these industry leaders’ systems contributed to management grousing about search.
  • Google assumed that it could disintermediate traditional information technology departments and deal directly with end users.

Google crafted a server that was positioned as a “search toaster.” The low price of the basic unit was less than $2,000 and sported an interface that required the licensee to plug in basic information and click a button to start the indexing process.

The Google Search Appliance by 2007 had an estimated 50,000 licensees. At that time, the product line had expanded but the locked down nature of the Google Search Appliance and the key word approach of the system was creating sales opportunities for other search appliance vendors; namely, Thunderstone, Maxxcat, and Index Engines.

Google added features and fiddled with the license fees, hardening the GSA product line with hot backups, connectors, and extensibility via licensed vendors. Few analysts paid much attention to the product licensing fees for the various “GB” or Google boxes. If you want to get a sense of the costs for building out a GSA system that can process 100 million documents, navigate to www.GSAadvantage.gov and search for the Google’s search appliances. The costs work out to be comparable or slightly higher than a similar installation from Autonomy, Endeca, or Fast. The high prices remain today.

Google learned from the GSA experience. Instead of offering an enterprise cloud solution, the company has left a limited and pricey GSA product line in the market and provided a modest commitment to this enterprise search solution. Google’s cloud solution manifests itself in Google’s site search features. I am waiting for Google either to kill the product line or amp up its commitment. In my opinion, the GSA is in no man’s land at this time. It appears that not even Google can respond to the needs of the enterprise findability users. If any company could crack the code, would it not be Google or a Xoogler’s start up?

As the GSA emerged as placeholder product, professionals became more and more dependent on Google’s Web search. In Europe, for example, Google’s Web search commands an market share in excess of 80 percent. In Denmark, Google’s share of Web search is north of 90 percent. In the US, Google has a 65 to 75 percent share of Web search, depending on which consultancies’ numbers one uses.

The word “search” became synonymous with Google. Enterprise search vendors began to use jargon other than search. This step was a natural reaction to hearing from prospects, “We want a search that works just like Google.” What the prospects meant was a system that was easy to use and seemed to deliver useful results in the hits displayed at the top of a results list, a page of images, or a map showing a location.

Google Web search, not the Google Search Appliance, reflected a broader shift in the information access market. Users of Web search and enterprise systems wanted and still want:

  1. Systems that do not require the user to invest much time and effort in getting an answer
  2. Systems that can produce useful outputs whether text, images, or maps with data displayed on them
  3. Systems that delivered “answers” without the delays (latency) many enterprise systems force on users.

Google’s ability to respond to this enterprise demand has been ineffectual. Like other Web search vendors, key word retrieval does not solve the problems basic search systems spawn. The GSA is evidence that Google does not have the key to unlock the revenue vault for enterprise search.

What Google search has done (inadvertently I might add) has been to make crystal clear that users do not want to work hard for information users perceive as useful. Precision and recall are irrelevant because voting and advertisers influence Google Web search results. Users love Google’s outputs.

In the organization, procurement teams, individual users, and senior management  boil their needs down to one simple statement: “We want search that is just like Google.”

That’s a big, big problem for search and content processing vendors. Google Web search is not about relevance, objective information, or accuracy. Google is easy and “good enough.” In an organization, people want easy. But in an organization the results have to be timely, comprehensive in terms of what information is available to an organization, and accurate.

On the Web Google can skip content that is malformed or stored on a server that does not respond to a Google spider quickly enough. In an organization, the content has to be available. On the Web, the advertisers and the uses’ own behavioral data pays the bills. In an organization, the organization has to pay the bills. Google has more money from a different business model than most organizations. Google pumps money into plumbing to deliver the service that makes money. Organizations want to fix the amount spent on search and the funds are not infinite.

For search vendors, the problem of Google’s dominance in Web search makes product differentiation difficult. Google’s business model creates challenges for vendors who have to justify the “value” and hence the “cost” of their search systems. For traditional search vendors, ease of use is very, very difficult because of the nature of the questions enterprise system users have.

Google is a mirror in which societal, cultural, and intellectual changes in information access are reflected. For many years, I have called attention to the verbal push ups search vendors use to try and make sales. The struggled Hewlett Packard have had with Autonomy provide a glimpse of how “value” can be difficult to change into hard cash Microsoft’s Delve illustrates that search for Office 365 is a combination of contacts, alerts, and personalization, not key word search. The dependence on enterprise search companies for cash from venture capital sources illustrates that traditional search is a very, very tough business to make into something sustainable and profitable without financial life support. The expectations that Watson will become a $10 billion business in 60 months is disconnected from the experience of other smart companies. In the history of enterprise search, only Autonomy reported revenues of more than $800 million from enterprise licenses. IBM projects more than 10 X this revenue in 60 months. It took Autonomy more than a decade to hit $500 million.

The reality is that Google is not the problem. Google is a metaphor for what users want when it comes to information access.

The write up asserts:

The Google paradigm also ignores the challenge of scalability.  Indexing the enterprise for a centralized enterprise search capability requires major investment.  In addition, centralization runs counter to the realities of the working world where information must be distributed globally across a variety of devices and applications.  The amount of information we create is overwhelming and the velocity with which that information moves increases daily.

Interesting statement. For me, the problem of the Google paradigm is that it another bit of jargon that sidesteps a what information retrieval must deliver in today’s business environment. Whoever cracks the code can make money. My hunch is that Google probed the enterprise search market and is trying to figure out how to make it pay off in a significant way. Google may be trapped in the same problem space through which other enterprise search and content processing vendors slog. The question may be, “Is there a way out of the swamp and into a land of milk, honey, sustainable revenue, and healthy margins?”

Stephen E Arnold, October 7, 2014

Harsh Words for Google and Its Search Results

October 5, 2014

Who owns Business Insider? Oh, maybe Amazon, a company with arguably the most ineffective search system available to me. Just try to winnow a list of books by those one can buy right now versus those one can buy at some time in the future? Oh, right. I just read “Here’s the Evidence That Google’s Search Results Are Horribly Biased.”

Now Google is an ad outfit. Pay money and one gets traffic. Seems simple. Google also flogs its own products like the really, really popular Google Search Appliance. Google is battling Amazon in the world of WalMart like cloud cost cutting. Sigh. Is it a surprise that Google has a small amount of self interest in what it does, delivers, and presents? Who argues for precision and recall at Google?

Here’s what I learned:

An internal document recently leaked from Yelp showed how the company believed Google was siphoning off up to 20% of its clicks, directing them to Google’s results. Yelp even persuaded the European Union to reopen an antitrust investigation into the way it said Google abused its 90% share of the European search market to manipulate results. (Business Insider heard Yelp’s intervention came after CEO Jeremy Stoppelman found himself at a dinner in San Francisco this spring with EC president José Manuel Barroso, where he was able to bend Barroso’s ear about Google’s market share.) So Yelp has launched a coalition, including Trip advisor and Consumer Watchdog, under the banner “Focus On The User” to draw attention to the way Google results are displayed.

Yep, revelation. Is it possible for a merchant to influence a Yelp review? Hmmm. Is any “free” search system bias free? Any countries filtering search results or system access to control information flow? Hmmmm.

Stephen E Arnold, October 5, 2014

Apple Versus Google: Does Google Win?

October 1, 2014

I read “On The Future of Apple and Google.” The bulk of the write up touches bases that are familiar to those who play softball at the Palo Alto fields. However, there was one passage that caught my attention:

The beauty of the modern mobile era is that it isn’t held back by anti-innovators like the carriers or monopolists like Microsoft and Intel who gated the pace of innovation in previous platform eras. The mobile stack has decoupled these previous incumbents from control. Today, Google is snapping up robotics companies and investing in autonomous vehicles, all of which will run futuristic versions of its operating systems and have the promise to measurably improve the way humans live.

Google seems to have the edge. Will governments cooperate. Analyses of companies near the Apple and Google stratosphere may have to find ways to deal with:

  • Closed markets or closing markets. Does China qualify?
  • Low cost competitors approved by governments? What devices will Australia find acceptable?
  • Privacy matters. Even wealthy companies want to avoid large fines. Didn’t Yahoo react when the price tag was $250,000 per day.
  • Social disruptions. Is it naive to assume that daily life will just trundle along in stable areas of the world?

My view is that dominant companies may have to find ways to remain dominant beyond copying one another, buying market share, and emulating Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Stephen E Arnold, October 1, 2014

Search: Just an Activity

September 30, 2014

Well, this is going to be a surprise for some folks at Google. After building a brand and habit for the search box at Google.com, search is just an activity. I leaned this in “Search Is No Longer a Destination. It’s an Activity.”

If I am an advertiser using AdWords or Facebook’s mechanism, I just want sales. Does the shift from activity to destination increase the value of a Facebook ad versus a Google ad.

The article points out:

Search engines have always had a hard time differentiating themselves to the masses. While digital marketers love analyzing the differences between algorithms, targeting methods, and result page layouts, the average person can’t tell much of a difference. That’s why for years “Google.com” was one of the top searches on Yahoo. That’s why despite some very clever (in my opinion) “Bing It On” TV commercials and some great case studies, Bing has had a very difficult time winning search traffic away from Google. As long as users aren’t dissatisfied with the results, they’ll keep searching wherever is convenient – often without even realizing what search engine they’re using.

Well, I am not sure that “always” is exactly on target. I think Chemical Abstracts differentiates itself quite well from Bing, Google, and a query about torts passed against Lexis. I know. I know. The article is aimed at folks who think about search in terms of Google, not the context of search and its more uninteresting manifestations.

The one point that I noted as fodder for my files was this one:

Context is the key element that powers these new search experiences. While some still contain a box where you can enter a query, their core functionality is around understanding and anticipating the searcher’s needs in the moment based on secondary signals like location, history, and other personal data the user chooses to share. And should the user need answers outside of this proactive information, voice search is the primary point of interaction.

I suppose I should be cheered that Delve, Microsoft’s search for Office 365, is going to get some blogger love. I am not exactly how a person looking for specific information will go about that task if accounts to commercial databases are not affordable and information access becomes an app.

I do not need to worry. The author provides this glimpse of the benefits of the death of traditional search:

No matter what format search marketing may take in the future, brands that build their strategy around providing valuable answers to their customers’ questions will continue to drive success in search – regardless of how the consumer searches, or if they even know what engine they’re using.

Right. When someone looks for a household cleanser, those ads for big name consumers products will fill the bill. How reassuring.

Stephen E Arnold, September 30, 2014

Tibco: Will It Regain Its Momentum?

September 29, 2014

I read “Tibco Sells Out to Private Equity in $4.3bn Deal with Vista Equity Partners.” I found Tibco interesting when I saw the servers used to power Yahoo News a number of years ago. The company is now owned by accountants and MBAs. I learned in the write up:

Tibco was founded in 1997 by its current chairman and CEO Vivek Ranadive. It was a pioneer of message-oriented middleware, particularly for the financial sector, which enables information to be pushed to multiple recipients at precisely the same time. However, Tibco’s expensive high-end proprietary software is under attack from open source in the form of the Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP), which promises not just lower-cost message queuing software, but also inter-operability between different vendors’ implementations of the open-source standard.

My recollection is that Tibco’s “information bus” made some of the old line outfits uncomfortable. Perhaps IBM? If the write up is accurate, open source is claiming a proprietary vendor.

How long will proprietary enterprise search vendors be able to keep the open source predators away? If the financial market gets the willies, the collapse of over hyped proprietary systems are likely to face high seas. Some swimmers drown in rough water even though the marketers insist the sun is shining.

Stephen E Arnold, September 29, 2014

IDC Tweets, IBM, and Content Marketing

September 29, 2014

Some Backstory

In 2012 and 2013, IDC sold my content with my name and Dave Schubmehl’s. These were nifty IDC “official” reports. The only hitch in the git along is that IDC did not trouble itself to issue a contract, get my permission, or tell me what they were doing with research my team prepared. The deal was witnessed by a law librarian, and I have a stack of emails about my research into such open source companies as Attivio, ElasticSearch (one of the disruptors of the enterprise search market), IBM (the subject of the IDC twit storm), Lucid Imagination (now Lucid Works which I write when I feel playful as Lucid works, really?), and eight other companies.

Hit by a twit storm. Rough seas ahead. Image from www.qsl.net.

In 2012, I had the open source research. IDC wanted the open source content to use in a monograph. So in front of a law librarian, IDC’s search “expert” thought the exchange of my information for open source intelligence, money, and stuff to sell was a great idea. (I have a file of email from IDC to me about what IDC wanted, but I never got a contract. But IDC had my research. Ah, those administrative delays.) IDC, however, was organized enough to additions to my company research like an open source industry overview.

In an odd approach to copyright, IDC did not produce a contract but it produced reports about four open source companies. Mr. Schubmehl and IDC just went about producing what were recycled company reports and trying to sell them at $3,500 a whack. Is that value or an example of the culture of narcissism? It may come as a surprise to you, gentle reader, but I sell research for money. I have a business model and it has worked for about 40 years. When an outfit uses the research without issuing a contract, I have to start thinking about such issues as fairness, integrity, copyright, and name surfing. Call me idiosyncratic, but when my name is used without my permission, I wonder how a big and allegedly respected organization can operate like a BearStearns-type senior executive.

Then, the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, a librarian told me that IDC was selling a report with my name and Mr. Schubmehl’s on Amazon. Wow, Amazon, the Wal-Mart for the digital age. The reports, now removed from Amazon’s blue light special shelf cost $3,500. Not bad for eight pages of  information based on my year long research investment into the wild and volatile world of open source search and content processing. Surf’s up for Mr. Schubmehl.

Well, IDC after some prodding by my very gentle legal gerbil stopped selling my work. We received a proposal that offered me a pittance for a guarantee that I would not talk or write about this name surfing, unauthorized resale of my information on Amazon, and the flubs of Mr. Schubmehl.

My legal gerbil rejected IDC’s lawyer crafted “deal,” and I am now converting my IDC misadventure  into a metaphor for some of the deeper issues associated with “experts” and certain professional services firms. My legal gerbil suggested a significantly higher fee, but, like many of that ilk, the gerbil broke my heart.

Hence, IDC and Mr. Schubmehl’s tweets and twit storm are on my fragile ship’s radar. Let’s review the IBM IDC Schubmehl twit storm on just one day in September 2014. Trigger warning: Do not emulate the IDC Schubmehl method for your content marketing program. One day of tweets only generates a lot of twit.

Now to the Twit Storm Unleashed on September 16, 2014

Using my Overflight system, I monitor IDC tweets. Quite an interesting series of tweets appears on September 16, 2014. Mr. Schubmehl posted 25 tweets about IBM Watson.

Here are three examples of the Watson content content to which his name was attached::

  • September 16, 2014. #WatsonAnalytics uses Watson cognitive technologies to ingest structured data and find relationships – Robin Grosset & Dan Wolfson
  • September 16, 2014 Combo of cognitive with cloud analytics improves process, analysis and decision making – cognitive will change all mkts #WatsonAnalytics
  • September 16, 2014 #WatsonAnalytics will be using a freemium model….first time for IBM…

Obviously there is nothing wrong with a tweet about an IBM product. What’s one more twit emission in a flow of several hundred thousand 144 character text outputs.

There is nothing illegal with two dozen tweets about IBM. What two dozen tweets do is make me laugh and see this content marketing effort as fodder for corporate weirdness.

Also, this IBM twit storm is not on the Miley Cyrus or Lady Gaga scale, but it is notable because it is a one day twit storm quite unlike the Jeopardy journey. Quite a marketing innovation: getting an alleged “expert” to craft  16 “original” tweets in one day and issue seven retweets of tweets from others who are fans of Big Blue. A few Schubmehl tweets on the 16th illustrated diversity; for example, “The FBI’s Facial Recognition System Is Here.” Hmm. The FBI and facial recognition. I wonder why one is interested in this development.

The terms mentioned in these IBM centric tweets on September 16, 2014, reveal the marketing jargon that IBM is using to generate revenue from the game show winning technology. My list of buzzwords from the tweets read like a who’s who of blogosphere and venture oriented yak:

  • Automated data cleansing
  • Analytics (cloud based)
  • Big Data
  • Cognitive (system and capabilities)
  • Data explorer
  • Democratizing
  • Freemium
  • Natural Language Computing
  • Natural Language Query.

From this list of buzzwords my favorites are “cognitive,” “Big Data,” and the number one silly word “Freemium.” Imagine. Freemium from IBM. Imagine.

My Interpretation of the Twit Storm

Let me capture several preliminary observations:

First, the Schubmehl Twitter activity on September 16, 2014 focuses mostly on IBM’s challenged Watson business development effort. The cluster of tweets on the 16th suggest a somewhat ungainly and down-market content marketing play.

Did Mr. Schubmehl wake up on the 16th of September and decide to crank out Watson centric tweets? Did IBM pay IDC and Mr. Schubmehl to do some content marketing like thousands of PR firms do each day? We even have these outfits in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky to flog auto sales, bourbon, and cheesy festivals in Middletown, Kentucky.

Here’s a question: “How many tweets does a McKinsey or Bain type of consulting firm issue on a single day for a single product that seems to be struggling for revenue?” If you know, please, use the comments section of this blog to provide some factoids.

Second, the tweets provide the reader with a list of what seem to be IBM Watson aficionados or employees who have the job of making the shotgun marriage of open source code, legacy Almaden technology, and proprietary scripts into a billion dollar revenue producer soon, very soon, gentle reader. The individuals mentioned in the September 16, 2014, tweets include:

  • Steve Gold, Baylor University
  • Robin Grosset, Distinguished engineer Watson Analytics.
  • Dan Wolfson, IBM Distinguished Engineer
  • Bob Picciano, Senior vice president, IBM information and analytics group.

Perhaps Mr. Gold is objective? I ask, “Do the other three IBM wizards looking at the world through IBM tinted spectacles when reading their business objectives for the current fiscal year?” I asked myself, “Should I trust these individuals who presumably are also “experts” in all things related to Watson?” My preliminary answer is, “Not for an objective view of the game show winning Watson.”

Third, what’s the payoff of this twit storm for IBM? Did IBM expect me to focus on the Schubmehl twit storm and convert the information into my idea of a 10 minute stand up comedy routine to deliver at the upcoming intelligence and law enforcement conference in nine days? Is it possible that “doing social media” looks good on a weekly report when an executive does not have juicy revenue numbers to present? The value of the effort strikes me as modest. In fact, viewed as a group, the tweets could be interpreted as a indicator of IBM’s slide into desperation marketing?

What about consulting firms and their ability to pump out high margin revenue?

Outfits like Gerson Lehrman Group have put the squeeze on mid tier consulting firms. The bottom feeders with its middle school teacher and poet contingent are not likely to sell to the IBMs of the world. GLG types companies are also nipping at the low end business of the blue chip outfits like Bain, Boston Consulting, and even McKinsey.

Put GLG can deliver to a client retired professionals from blue chip firms and on point experts. As a result, GLG has made life very, very tough for the mid tier outfits. Why pay $50,000 for an unproven “expert” when you can buy a person with a pedigree for an hour and pay a few hundred bucks when you need a factoid or an opinion? I consider IDC’s move to content marketing indicative of a fundamental shift in the character of a consulting firm’s business. The shift to low level PR work seems out of character for a professionals services with a commitment to intellectual rigor.

Every few days I learn that something called TopSEOs.com generates a list of content marketing leaders. Will IDC appear on this list?

For those who depend on lower- or mid tier consulting firms for professional counsel, how would you answer these questions:

  1. What is the intellectual substance behind pronouncements? Is there original research underpinning pronouncements and projections, or are the data culled from secondary sources and discussions with paying customers?
  2. What is the actual relationship between a mid tier consulting firm and the companies discussed in “authoritative” reports? Are these reports and projects inclusions (a fancy word for ads) or are they objective discussions of companies?
  3. Are the experts presented as “experts” actually experts or are they individuals who want to hit revenue goals while keeping costs as low as possible?

I don’t have definitive answers to these questions. Perhaps one day I can use a natural language query to tap into Big Data and rely on cognitive methods to provide answers.

For now, a one day twit storm is a wonderful example of how not to close deals, build reputations, and stimulate demand for advanced technology offered via a “Freemium” model. What the heck does that mean anyway?

Stephen E Arnold, September 29, 2014

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