Enterprise Search: Mapless and Lost?

February 5, 2015

One of the content challenges traditional enterprise search trips over is geographic functions. When an employee looks for content, the implicit assumption is that keywords will locate a list of documents in which the information may be located. The user then scans the results list—whether in Google style laundry lists or in the graphic display popularized by Grokker and Kartoo which have gone dark. (Quick aside: Both of these outfits reflect the influence of French information retrieval wizards. I think of these as emulators of Datops “balls” displays.)


A results list displayed by the Grokker system. The idea is that the user explores the circular areas. These contain links to content germane to the user’s keyword query.

The Kartoo interface displays sources connected to related sources. Once again the user clicks and goes through the scan, open, read, extract, and analyze process.

In a broad view, both of these visualizations are maps of information. Do today’s users want these type of hard to understand maps?

In CyberOSINT I explore the role of “maps” or more properly geographic intelligence (geoint), geo-tagging, and geographic outputs) from automatically collected and analyzed data.

The idea is that a next generation information access system recognizes geographic data and displays those data in maps. Think in terms of overlays on the eye popping maps available from commercial imagery vendors.

What do these outputs look like? Let me draw one example from the discussion in CyberOSINT about this important approach to enterprise related information. Keep in mind that an NGIA can process any information made available to the systems; for example, enterprise accounting systems or databased content along with text documents.

In response to either a task, a routine update when new information becomes available, or a request generated by a user with a mobile device, the output looks like this on a laptop:


Source: ClearTerra, 2014

The approach that ClearTerra offers allows a person looking for information about customers, prospects, or other types of data which carries geo-codes appears on a dynamic map. The map can be displayed on the user’s device; for example a mobile phone. In some implementations, the map is a dynamic PDF file which displays locations of items of interest as the item of interest moves. Think of a person driving a delivery truck or an RFID tagged package.

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Twitter Loves Google Again and for Now

February 5, 2015

I have been tracking Twitter search for a while. There are good solutions, but these require some heavy lifting. The public services are hit and miss. Have you poked into the innards of TweetTunnel?

I read “Twitter Strikes Search Deal with Google to Surface Tweets.” Note that this link may require you to pay for access or the link has gone dead. According to the news story:

The deal means the 140-character messages written by Twitter’s 284 million users could be featured faster and more prominently by the search engine. The hope is that greater placement in Google’s search results could drive more traffic to Twitter, which could one day sell advertising to these visitors when they come to the site, or more important, entice them to sign up for the service.

Twitter wants to monetize its content. Google wants to sell ads.

The only hitch in the git along is that individual tweets are often less useful than processing of tweets by a person, a tag, or some other index point. A query for a tweet can be darned misleading. Consider running a query for a tweet on the Twitter search engine. Enter the term “thunderstone”. What do you get? Games. What about the search vendor Thunderstone. Impossible to find, right?

For full utility from Twitter, one may want to license the Twitter stream from an authorized vendor. Then pump the content into a next generation information access system. Useful outputs result for many concepts.

For more about NGIA systems and processing large flows of real time information, see CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access. Reading an individual tweet is often less informative than examining subsets of tweets.

Stephen E Arnold, February 5, 2015

Enterprise Search: NGIA Vendors Offer Alternative to the Search Box

February 4, 2015

I have been following the “blast from the past” articles that appear on certain content management oriented blogs and news services. I find the articles about federated search, governance, and knowledge related topics oddly out of step with the more forward looking developments in information access.

I am puzzled because the keyword search sector has been stuck in a rut for many years. The innovations touted in the consulting-jargon of some failed webmasters, terminated in house specialists, and frustrated academics are old, hoary with age, and deeply problematic.

There are some facts that cheerleaders for the solutions of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s choose to overlook:

  • Enterprise search typically means a subset of content required by an employee to perform work in today’s fluid and mobile work environment. The mix of employees and part timers translates to serious access control work. Enterprise search vendors “support” an organization’s security systems in the manner of a consulting physician to heart surgery. Inputs but no responsibility are the characteristics.
  • The costs of configuring, testing, and optimizing an old school system are usually higher than the vendor suggests. When the actual costs collide with the budget costs, the customer gets frisky. Fast Search & Transfer’s infamous revenue challenges came about in part because customers refused to pay when the system was not running and working as the marketers suggested it would.
  • Employees cannot locate needed information and don’t like the interfaces. The information is often “in” the system but not in the indexes. And if in the indexes, the users cannot figure out which combination of keywords unlocks what’s needed. The response is, “Who has time for this?” When a satisfaction measure is required somewhere between 55 and 75 percent of the search system’s users don’t like it very much.

Obviously organizations are looking for alternatives. These range from using open source solutions which are good enough. Other organizations put up with Windows’ search tools, which are also good enough. More important software systems like an enterprise resource planning or accounting system come with basis search functions. Again: These are good enough.

The focus of information access has shifted from indexing a limited corpus of content using a traditional solution to a more comprehensive, automated approach. No software is without its weaknesses. But compared to keyword search, there are vendors pointing customers toward a different approach.

Who are these vendors? In this short write up, I want to highlight the type of information about next generation information access vendors in my new monograph, CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access.

I want to highlight one vendor profiled in the monograph and mention three other vendors in the NGIA space which are not included in the first edition of the report but for whom I have reports available for a fee.

I want to direct your attention to Knowlesys, an NGIA vendor operating in Hong Kong and the Nanshan District, Shenzhen. On the surface, the company processes Web content. The firm also provides a free download of a scraping software, which is beginning to show its age.

Dig a bit deeper, and Knowlesys provides a range of custom services. These include deploying, maintaining, and operating next generation information access systems for clients. The company’s system can process and make available automatically content from internal, external, and third party providers. Access is available via standard desktop computers and mobile devices:


Source: Knowlesys, 2014.

The system handles both structured and unstructured content in English and a number of other languages.


The company does not reveal its clients and the firm routinely ignores communications sent via the online “contact us” mail form and faxed letters.

How sophisticated in the Knowlesys system? Compared to the other 20 systems analyzed for the CyberOSINT monograph, my assessment is that the company’s technology is on a part with that of other vendors offering NGIA systems. The plus of the Knowlesys system, if one can obtain a license, is that it will handle Chinese and other ideographic languages as well as the Romance languages. The downside is that for some applications, the company’s location in China may be a consideration.

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A Glimpse of Enterprise Search in 24 Months

February 3, 2015

The enterprise search sector faces one of its most critical periods in the next 24 months. The open source “commodity” search threat has moved into the mainstream. The value added indexing boomlet has helped make suggestions, point-and-click queries, and facets standard features. Prices for traditional search systems are all over the place. Proprietary technology vendors offer useful solutions for a few hundred dollars. The gap between the huge license fees of the early 2000s is, in theory, closed by the vendors’ consulting and engineering services revenue.

But the grim reality is that most systems today include some type of information access tool. Whether it is Google’s advertiser-energized model or Microsoft’s attempts to provide information to a Bing user before he or she knows she wants that information suggest that the human query is slowly being eased out of the system.

I would suggest you read “Replacing Middle Management with APIs.” The article focuses on examples that at first glance seem far removed from locating the name and address of a customer. That view would be one dimensional. The article suggests that another significant wave of disintermediation will take place. Instead of marginalizing the research librarian, next generation software will have an impact on middle management.

Humans, instead of performing decision making functions, become “cogs in a giant automated dispatching machine.” The example applies to an Uber type operation but it can be easily seen as a concept that will apply to many intermediating tasks.

Here’s the passage I highlighted in yellow this morning:

What’s bizarre here is that these lines of code directly control real humans. The Uber API dispatches a human to drive from point A to point B. And the 99designs Tasks API dispatches a human to convert an image into a vector logo (black, white and color). Humans are on the verge of becoming literal cogs in a machine, completely anonymized behind an API. And the companies that control those APIs have strong incentives to drive down the cost of executing those API methods.

What does this have to do with enterprise search?

I see several possible points of intersection:

First, software can eliminate the much reviled guessing game of finding the keywords that unlock the index. The next generation search system presents information to the user. The user becomes an Uber driver, executing the tasks assigned by the machine. Need a name and address? The next generation system identifies the need, fetches the information, and injects it into a work flow that still requires a human to perform a function.

Second, the traditional information retrieval vendors will have to find the time, money, and expertise to overhaul their keyword systems. Cosmetics just will not be enough to deal with the threat of what the author calls application programming interfaces. The disintermediation will not be limited to middle managers. The next wave of work casualties will be companies that sell old school information access systems. The disintermediation of companies anchored in the past will have significant influence over the success of search vendors marketing aggressively 24×7.

Third, the user in the Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Y demographics have been conditioned to rely on smart software. Need a pizza? The Apple and Google mapping services deliver in a manner of speaking. Keywords are just not ideal on a mobile device.

The article states:

And I suspect these software layers will only get thicker. Entrepreneurial software developers will find ways to tie these APIs together, delivering products that combine several “human” APIs. Someone could use Mechanical Turk’s API to automate sales prospect research, plug that data into 99designs Tasks’ API to prepare customized infographics for the prospect sent via email. Or someone could use Redfin’s API to automatically purchase houses, and send a Zirtual [sic] assistant instructions via email on how to project-manage a renovation, flipping the house completely programmatically. These “real-world APIs” allow complex programs (or an AI in the spooky storyline here), to affect and control things in the real-world. It does seem apropos that we invest in AI safety now. As the software layer gets thicker, the gap between Below the API jobs and Above the API jobs widens. And economic incentives will push Above the API engineers to automate the jobs Below the API: self-driving cars and drone delivery are certainly on the way.

My view is that this API shift is well underway. I document a number of systems that automatically collect, analyze, and output actionable information to humans and to other systems. For more information about next generation information access solutions, check out CyberOSINT, my most recent monograph about information access.

For enterprise search vendors dependent on keywords and hyperbolic marketing, APIs may be one of the most serious challenges the sector has yet faced.

Stephen E Arnold, February 3, 2015

LucidWorks (Really?) Defines, Redefines Startup

February 2, 2015

I received one of those off the wall LinkedIn requests. Years ago the original LucidWorks (Really?) was a client of my advisory services. Marc Krellenstein, who left the company in an interesting, mysterious, and wave generating founder escape, mentioned me to another LucidWorks (Really?) employee. (Note: Dr. Krellenstein is now the senior vice president of technology development at Decision Resources.)

In the beginning, there was the dream of becoming the next RedHat of the enterprise search world.

Flash forward through two presidents and a legion of leaders to the departure of Paul Doscher, once involved with Exalead and Jaspersoft. Eric Gries left his CEO role after the first Lucene Revolution Conference. Yep, revolution. A new platoon of Horse Artillery arrived. I lost interest in the outfit.

Then the company morphed into a vendor who sold consulting that actually worked, often a rarity in the world of information access.

About half way through the almost eight year journey, Lucid Imagination morphed into LucidWorks (Really?). The company flip flopped from a consulting firm selling Lucene/Solr engineering into a Big Data company. The move was sparked by the company’s inability to generate a payback on the $40 million in venture capital pumped into the company since it opened for business in 2007.

Now the company has an off kilter logo in two shades of red and a lower case “w.” Marketing genius illuminates this substantive typographical maneuver. My goodness, the shift from blue to red is something I would associate with Dr. Einstein’s analysis of Brownian motion or Dr. Jon Kleinberg’s CLEVER algorithm or Dr. Jeffrey Dean’s work on Google Chubby.

The way I do math reveals that LucidWorks (Really?) is a seven year old company. The burn rate works out to about $6 million in venture funding plus whatever revenues the company has been able to generate on its 84 month journey. When LucidWorks (Really?)  with Krellenstein on board set up shop Bill Cowher resigned as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and started his journey to seemingly low key Time Warner pitchman. Also in 2007 the Indianapolis Colts beat the the Chicago Bears to win the super bowl. The first episode of Mad Men ran on a US pay for view channel. The number one song in 2007 was Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.” Is this the tune Elasticsearch plays as it wins clients from LucidWorks (Really?)?

Now to the LinkedIn email:

A LucidWorks (Really?) employee wanted me to know that he was previously employed by Raritan, a connector and consulting company specializing in “federated search.” This person wanted to be my LinkedIn “amigo,” “BBF,” “Robin,” or who knows what else.

I pointed out that I did not want to be a LinkedIn friend with an outfit that may be the object of considerable attention from Granite Ventures, Shasta Ventures, Walden International, and In-Q-Tel, an outfit known for investments based on the US government’s curiosity, not payback.

My former Raritan federated search expert read my “no” and sent me this message:

Fair enough – we are after all a startup for chrissakes! I just published a blog on our Lucidworks site -( lower case ‘w’ please dude! that was from our Marketing Guys) called The Well Tempered Search Application – Prelude. Fusion 1.1 has a lot of gaps to fill – I have trying to help our whizz kids realize that this is somewhat wheel-reinvention … I would be interested in your thoughts on my blog/rant because you are one of my heroes: a real dyed in the wool crusty curmudgeon if you will (that is meant as a compliment!)

Okay, I took away a couple of factoids from this email: Cursing is a Sillycon Valley convention. I live in rural Kentucky where there are Baptists and others who get frisky when curse words are tossed around the Speedy Mart. Another factoid is that LucidWorks (Really?) is a startup.  But now to the big deal at LucidWorks (Really?): Lucidworks with a lower case “w.” I had to reach for my blood pressure medicine. A lower case “w”. Oy vay. LucidWorks (Really?) has hit upon a significant and brilliant move. A. Lower. Case. W. I have to take a couple of deep breaths.

I pointed out that a seven year old company is not a startup as much as the marketing “guys” want it to be. I then learned this from my correspondent:

Point taken what I meant was that we are still VC funded. We have undergone a lot of transformation in the last year so your criticisms are totally valid say up to 2013, but we are working hard to redress these as we speak. So stay tuned sir, hope that we can make a convert but to be clear, I am NOT a sales or marketing guy thank you very much. But whatever the case, I share your cynicism in general – I have been doing this for about 15 years now – so I have seen hype cycles like Big Data come and go – FWIW our earlier claims for Big Data were BS but the re-tooling that we are doing now will hopefully change your mind somewhat. [emphasis added]

Fascinating is the phrase “still VC funded.” In my mind this begs the question, “After seven years of trying to generate revenue, when will LucidWorks (Really?) start to fund itself, pay back its stakeholders, and generate sufficient surplus to invest in research to deal with the demons of Big Data?”

Maybe LucidWorks (Really?) should update its information in stories like this: “Trouble at LucidWorks: Lawsuits, Lost Deals, & Layoffs Plague the Search Startup Despite Funding.” Isn’t the Big Data drum becoming noise; for example, “The Promise of Big Data Still Looms, but Execution Lags.”

Looking back over seven years, LucidWorks (Really?) has an intriguing pattern of hiring people, engaging in litigation, getting more venture funding, and repositioning itself. How many repackagers of Lucene/Solr does the world’s appetite demand.

Based on my monograph about open source search, the winner in the keyword search solutions is Elasticsearch. In terms of venture funding, staff stability, and developer support—Elasticsearch is the winner in this game.

LucidWorks (Really?) will have to do more than tell me that it is not a start up after telling me it is a startup, flip-flopping its value proposition, making substantive changes like the use of a lower case “w”, and asking me to give the company a hunting license for my LinkedIn contacts.

In short, as the revenue pressure mounts, I look forward to more amusing antics. I particularly like the slang phrase “We are after all a startup for chrissakes!”

No, dear LucidWorks (Really?), you are not a start up and you are not a player in the next generation information access market. If I were more like my old Halliburton/Booz Allen self, I would try to sell a briefing to your venture funding outfits. Now it is not my problem. l

Enjoy your meetings to review your lower case “w” quarterly revenues. And, please, do not tell me that you cannot afford my CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access study. That’s okay. I cannot afford a McLaren P1. No one cares, including me. I prefer products that work, really.

Stephen E Arnold, February 2, 2015

Enterprise Search Lacks NGIA Functions

January 29, 2015

Users Want More Than Hunting through a Rubbish

CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access is, according to Ric Manning, the publisher of Stephen E Arnold’s new study, is now available. You can order a copy at the Gumroad online store or via the link on Xenky.com.

cover for ads

One of the key chapters in the 176 page study of information retrieval solution that move beyond search takes you under the hood of an NGIA system. Without reproducing the 10 page chapter and its illustrations, I want to highlight two important aspects of NGIA systems.

When a person requires information under time pressure, traditional systems pose a problem. The time required to figure out which repository to query, craft a query or take a stab at what “facet” (category) may contain the information, scanning the outputs the system displays, opening a document that appears to be related to the query, and then figuring out exactly what item of data is the one required makes traditional search a non starter in many work situations. The bottleneck is the human’s ability to keep track of which digital repository contains what. Many organizations have idiosyncratic terminology, and users in one department may not be familiar with the terminology used in another unit of the organization.


Register for the seminar on the Telestrategies’ Web site.

Traditional enterprise search systems trip and skin their knees over the time issue and over the “locate what’s needed issue.” These are problems that have persisted in search box oriented systems since the days of RECON, SDC Orbit, and Dialcom. There is little a manager can do to create more time. Time is a very valuable commodity and it often determines what type of decision is made and how risk laden that decision may be.

There is also little one can do to change how a bright human works with a system that forces a busy individual to perform iterative steps that often amount to guessing the word or phrase to unlock what’s hidden in an index or indexes.

Little wonder that convincing a customer to license a traditional keyword system continue to bedevil vendors.

A second problem is the nature of access. There is news floating around that Facebook has been able to generate more ad growth than Google because Facebook has more mobile users. Whether Facebook or Google dominates social mobile, the key development is “mobile.” Works need information access from devices which have smaller and different form factors from the multi core, 3.5 gigahertz, three screen workstation I am using to write this blog post.

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Enterprise Search Pressured by Cyber Methods

January 29, 2015

I read “Automated Systems Replacing Traditional Search.” The write up asserts:

Stephen E. Arnold, search industry expert and author of the “Enterprise Search Report” and “The New Landscape of Search,” has announced the publication of “CyberOSINT: Next-Generation Information Access.” The 178-page report explores the tools and methods used to collect and analyze content posted in public channels such as social media sites. The new technology can identify signals that provide intelligence and law enforcement analysts early warning of threats, cyber attacks or illegal activities.

According to Robert Steele, co-founder of USMC Intelligence Activity:

NGIA systems are integrated solutions that blend software and hardware to address very specific needs. Our intelligence, law enforcement, and security professionals need more than brute force keyword search.

According to Dr. Jerry Lucas, president of Telestrategies, which operates law enforcement and training conferences in the US and elsewhere:

This is the first discussion of the innovative software that makes sense of the flood of open source digital information. Law enforcement, security, and intelligence professionals will find this an invaluable resource to identify ways to deal with Big Data.

The report complements the Telestrategies ISS seminar on CyberOSINT. Orders for the monograph, which costs $499, may be placed at www.xenky.com/cyberosint. Information about the February 19, 2015, seminar held in the DC area is at this link.

The software and methods described in the study has immediate and direct applications to commercial entities. Direct orders may be placed at http://gum.co/cyberosint.

Don Anderson, January 29, 2015

Enterprise Search: X1 Argues Search and Discovery Are the Cure to Findability Ills. Maybe Not?

January 26, 2015

I read a white paper from a search vendor called X1 or X1 Discovery. The company was incubated in the same hot house that produced GoTo.com. As a result of that pay to play model, Web search was changed from objectivity to advertising. X1 search, if I understand the white paper, Why Enterprise Search Fails in Most Cases and How to Fix It (registration from this link required to access the paper) and the companion article “X1 CEO Message: A New Approach to Enterprise Search Resonates” is the future of search.

The fix is an interface that looks like this:


Source: “Why Enterprise Search Fails in Most Cases and How to Fix It,” page 3.

In the “X1 CEO Message” I noted:

So in view of this customer and industry feedback, we coined the phrase “business productivity search” to differentiate what X1 focuses on verses most other enterprise search tools, which are typically re-fashioned big data analytics or web search appliances. And the feedback we’ve received on this from end-users and industry experts alike is that this assessment hits the nail on the head. Business productivity search is not big data analytics and it is not web retrieval. It is its own use case with a workflow and interface that is tailored to the end users. X1 provides the end-user with a powerful yet user-friendly and iterative means to quickly retrieve their business documents and emails using their own memory recall as opposed to generic algorithms that generate false positives and a workflow ill-suited to business productivity search.

I am not convinced that search and discovery as described is going to address the core issues that plague enterprise information access. Specifically, the last few decades have beaten keywords to death. The users have expressed their views by grousing about whatever keyword system is provided to them, finding alternatives to keyword search, and shifting attention from keywords to more actionable interfaces provided by a group of vendors largely unfamiliar to the keyword crowd.

There is a role for keyword search, but that utility function can be provided via open source solutions ranging from FLAX to Lucene to SphinxSearch and other options.

What is not provided is the automated collection, analysis, and report functions of the next generation information access systems. I have explained the characteristics of the next generation information access systems in CyberOSINT, described at www.xenky.com/cyberosint. In this study, I profile more than 18 next generation systems, provide a schematic of the functions included in these systems, and provide examples of the outputs these NGIA solutions provide to their users.

What’s interesting is that each of these vendors supports keyword search in some way. Just as a modern automobile provides a lever to display a turn signal, NGIA systems include utility functions. But—and this is a big “but”—the NGIA systems address the needs of the user. The idea is that the user, without trying to guess the keywords that unlock what’s in an index, provide actionable outputs. A dashboard is one option. More useful outputs include dynamic PDF maps with data displayed on a mobile device. The maps update ass the information arrives or the user moves around. There are outputs that show the key players in a deal and provide one click access to supporting data. No search is required. Many of the NGIA system operate in a predictive manner. When the user looks at the device, the information is “just there.”

I appreciate the efforts of vendors like X1, Coveo, Attivio, and IBM Watson in their attempts to breath new life into keyword search. Just as the old marketing essay about buggy whips made vivid to tens of thousands of MBA student, when the automobiles appear, the buggy whip outfits may want to make seat covers.

The fix for enterprise search problems is not more keyword and point and click suggestions. The solution is a shift to the NGIA approach. And that shift, whether traditional vendors of search grasp it, has already begun.

Stephen E Arnold, January 26, 2015

Enterprise Search: A Problem of Relevance to the Users

January 23, 2015

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


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?”


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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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

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