Search, Not Just Sentiment Analysis, Needs Customization

July 11, 2014

One of the most widespread misperceptions in enterprise search and content processing is “install and search.” Anyone who has tried to get a desktop search system like X1 or dtSearch to do what the user wants with his or her files and network shares knows that fiddling is part of the desktop search game. Even a basic system like Sow Soft’s Effective File Search requires configuring the targets to query for every search in multi-drive systems. The work arounds are not for the casual user. Just try making a Google Search Appliance walk, talk, and roll over without the ministrations of an expert like Adhere Solutions. Don’t take my word for it. Get your hands dirty with information processing’s moving parts.

Does it not make sense that a search system destined for serving a Fortune 1000 company requires some additional effort? How much more time and money will an enterprise class information retrieval and content processing system require than a desktop system or a plug-and-play appliance?

How much effort is required to these tasks? There is work to get the access controls working as the ever alert security manager expects. Then there is the work needed to get the system to access, normalize, and process content for the basic index. Then there is work for getting the system to recognize, acquire, index, and allow a user to access the old, new, and changed content. Then one has to figure out what to tell management about rich media, content for which additional connectors are required, the method for locating versions of PowerPoints, Excels, and Word files. Then one has to deal with latencies, flawed indexes, and dependencies among the various subsystems that a search and content processing system includes. There are other tasks as well like interfaces, work flow for alerts, yadda yadda. You get the idea of the almost unending stream of dependent, serial “thens.”

When I read “Why Sentiment Analysis Engines need Customization”, I felt sad for licensees fooled by marketers of search and content processing systems. Yep, sad as in sorrow.

Is it not obvious that enterprise search and content processing is primarily about customization?

Many of the so called experts, advisors, and vendors illustrate these common search blind spots:

ITEM: Consulting firms that sell my information under another person’s name assuring that clients are likely to get a wild and wooly view of reality. Example: Check out IDC’s $3,500 version of information based on my team’s work. Here’s the link for those who find that big outfits help themselves to expertise and then identify a person with a fascinating employment and educational history as the AUTHOR.



In this example from, notice that my work is priced at seven times that of a former IDC professional. Presumably Mr. Schubmehl recognized that my value was greater than that of an IDC sole author and priced my work accordingly. Fascinating because I do not have a signed agreement giving IDC, Mr. Schubmehl, or IDC’s parent company the right to sell my work on Amazon.

This screen shot makes it clear that my work is identified as that of a former IDC professional, a fellow from upstate New York, an MLS on my team, and a Ph.D. on my team.



I assume that IDC’s expertise embraces the level of expertise evident in the TechRadar article. Should I trust a company that sells my content without a formal contract? Oh, maybe I should ask this question, “Should you trust a high  profile consulting firm that vends another person’s work as its own?” Keep that $3,500 price in mind, please.

ITEM: The TechRadar article is written by a vendor of sentiment analysis software. His employer is Lexalytics / Semantria (once a unit of Infonics). He writes:

High quality NLP engines will let you customize your sentiment analysis settings. “Nasty” is negative by default. If you’re processing slang where “nasty” is considered a positive term, you would access your engine’s sentiment customization function, and assign a positive score to the word. The better NLP engines out there will make this entire process a piece of cake. Without this kind of customization, the machine could very well be useless in your work. When you choose a sentiment analysis engine, make sure it allows for customization. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with a machine that interprets everything literally, and you’ll never get accurate results.

When a vendor describes “natural language processing” with the phrase “high quality” I laugh. NLP is a work in progress. But the stunning statement in this quoted passage is:

Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with a machine that interprets everything literally, and you’ll never get accurate results.

Amazing, a vendor wrote this sentence. Unless a licensee of a “high quality” NLP system invests in customizing, the system will “never get accurate results.” I quite like that categorical never.

ITEM: Sentiment analysis is a single, usually complex component of a search or content processing system. A person on the LinkedIn enterprise search group asked the few hundred “experts” in the discussion group for examples of successful enterprise search systems. If you are a member in good standing of LinkedIn, you can view the original query at this link. [If the link won’t work, talk to LinkedIn. I have no idea how to make references to my content on the system work consistently over time.] I pointed out that enterprise search success stories are harder to find than reports of failures. Whether the flop is at the scale of the HP/Autonomy acquisition or a more modest termination like Overstock’s dumping of a big name system, the “customizing” issues is often present. Enterprise search and content processing is usually:

  • A box of puzzle pieces that requires time, expertise, and money to assemble in a way that attracts and satisfies users and the CFO
  • A work in progress to make work so users are happy and in a manner that does not force another search procurement cycle, the firing of the person responsible for the search and content processing system, and the legal fees related to the invoices submitted by the vendor whose system does not work. (Slow or no payment of licensee and consulting fees to a search vendor can be fatal to the search firm’s health.)
  • A source of friction among those contending for infrastructure resources. What I am driving at is that a misconfigured search system makes some computing work S-L-O_W. Note: the performance issue must be addressed for appliance-based, cloud, or on premises enterprise search.
  • Money. Don’t forget money, please. Remember the CFO’s birthday. Take her to lunch. Be really nice. The cost overruns that plague enterprise search and content processing deployments and operations will need all the goodwill you can generate.

If sentiment analysis requires customizing and money, take out your pencil and estimate how much it will cost to make NLP and sentiment to work. Now do the same calculation for relevancy tuning, index tuning, optimizing indexing and query processing, etc.

The point is that folks who get a basic key word search and retrieval system work pile on the features and functions. Vendors whip up some wrapper code that makes it possible to do a demo of customer support search, eCommerce search, voice search, and predictive search. Once the licensee inks the deal, the fun begins. The reason one major Norwegian search vendor crashed and burned is that licensees balked at paying bills for a next generation system that was not what the PowerPoint slides described. Why has IBM embraced open source search? Is one reason to trim the cost of keeping the basic plumbing working reasonably well? Why are search vendors embracing every buzzword that comes along? I think that search and an enterprise function has become a very difficult thing to sell, make work,  and turn into an evergreen revenue stream.

The TechRadar article underscores the danger for licensees of over hyped systems. The consultants often surf on the expertise of others. The vendors dance around the costs and complexities of their systems. The buzzwords obfuscate.

What makes this article by the Lexalytics’ professional almost as painful as IDC’s unauthorized sale of my search content is this statement:

You’ll be stuck with a machine that interprets everything literally, and you’ll never get accurate results.

I agree with this statement.

Stephen E Arnold, July 11, 2014


One Response to “Search, Not Just Sentiment Analysis, Needs Customization”

  1. Brian McLaughlin on July 11th, 2014 10:46 am

    Stephen –
    would like to get the Library of Congress to add an “authentic”
    tag to their author entries…? I suppose that’s unlikely but it may be worth
    a note in the Market Research Report Publishers group on Linked – “be advised,
    you may be purchasing unauthorized research”…?
    I’m disappointed if you don’t have legal remedies available to you!
    Brian McLaughlin

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