Month: June 2007

Respect for Complexity and Security are Winners

I participated in one search vendor’s user conference this week, and a webinar sponsored by another. Both impressed me because they expressed values that I respect in the content software industry and they provided solid evidence that they have the technology and business delivery infrastructure to back up the rhetoric.
You have probably noted that my blog is slim on comments about specific products and this trend will continue to be the norm. However, in addition to the general feeling of good will from Endeca customers that I experienced at Endeca Discover 2007, I heard clear messages from sessions I attended that reinforced the company’s focus on helping clients solve complex content retrieval problems. Complexity is inherent in enterprises because of diversity among employees, methods of operating, technologies deployed and varied approaches to meeting business demands at every level.
In presentations by Paul Sonderegger and Jason Purcell care was given to explain Endeca’s approach to building their search technology solutions and why. At the core is a fundamental truth about how organizations and people function; you never know how a huge amount of unpredictably interconnected stuff will be approached. Endeca wants its users to be able to use information as levers to discover, through personalized methods, relationships among content pieces that will pry open new possibilities for understanding the content.
Years ago I was actively involved with a database model called an associative structural model. It was developed explicitly to store and manipulate huge amount of database text and embodied features of hierarchical, networked and relational data structures. It worked well for complex, integrated databases because it allowed users to manipulate and mingle data groups in unlimited ways. Unfortunately, it required a user to be able to visualize the possibilities for combining and expressing data from hundreds of fields in numerous tables by using keys. This structural complexity could not easily be taught or learned, and tools for simple visualization were not available in the early 1980s. As I listened to Jason Purcell describe Endeca’s optimized record store, and concept of “intra-query” to provide solutions for the problems posed by double uncertainty I thought, “They get it.” They have acknowledged the challenge of making it simple to update, use and exploit vast knowledge stores; they are working hard to meet the challenge. Good for them! We all want flexibility to work the way we want but if it is not easy we will not adopt.
In a KMWorld webinar, Vivisimo’s Jerome Pesente and customer Arnold Verstraten of NV Organon co-presented with Matt Brown of Forrester Research. The theme was search security models. Besides the reasons for up-front consideration for security when accessing and retrieving from enterprise repositories, three basic control models were described. All three were based on access control lists (ACLs), how and why they are used by Vivisimo.
Having worked with defense agencies, defense contractors and corporations with very serious security requirements on who can access what, I am very familiar with the types of data structures and indexing methods that can be used. I was pleased to hear the speakers address trade-offs that include performance and deployment issues. It served to remind me that organizations do need to be thinking about this early in the selection process; inability to handle the most sensitive content appropriately should eliminate any enterprise search vendor that tries to equivocate on security. Also, as Organon did, there is nothing that demonstrates the quality of the solution like a “bake-off” against a sufficient corpus of content that will demonstrate whether all documents and their metadata that must not be viewed by some audiences in fact are always excluded from search results for all in those restricted audiences. Test it. Really test it!

Turbo Search Engines in Cars; it is not the whole solution.

In my quest to analyze the search tools that are available to the enterprise, I spend a lot of time searching. These searches use conventional on-line search tools, and my own database of citations that link to articles, long forgotten. But true insights about products and markets usually come through the old-fashioned route, the serendipity of routine life. For me search also includes the ordinary things I do everyday:
> Looking up a fact (e.g. phone number, someone’s birthday, woodchuck deterrents), which I may find in an electronic file or hardcopy
> Retrieving a specific document (e.g. an expense form, policy statement, or ISO standard), which may be on-line or in my file cabinet
> Finding evidence (e.g. examining search logs to understand how people are using a search engine, looking for a woodchuck hole near my garden, examining my tires for uneven tread wear), which requires viewing electronic files or my physical environment
> Discovering who the experts are on a topic or what expertise my associates have (e.g. looking up topics to see who has written or spoken, reading resumes or biographies to uncover experience), which is more often done on-line but may be buried in a 20-year old professional directory on the shelf
> Learning about a subject I want or need to understand (e.g. How are search and text analytics being used together in business enterprises? what is the meaning of the tag line “Turbo Search Engine” on an Acura ad?), which were partially answered with online search but also by attending conferences like the Text Analytics Summit 2007 this week
This list illustrates several things. First search is about finding facts, evidence, aggregated information (documents). It is also about discovering, learning and uncovering information that we can then analyze for any number of decisions or potential actions.
Second, search enables us to function more efficiently in all of our worldly activities, execute our jobs, increase our own expertise and generally feed our brains.
Third, search does not require the use of electronic technology, nor sophisticated tools, just our amazing senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.
Fourth, that what Google now defines as “cloud computing” and MIT geeks began touting as “wearable” technology a few years ago have converged to bring us cars embedded with what Acura defines as “turbo search engines.” On this fourth point, I needed to discover the point. In small print on the full page ad in Newsweek were phrases like “linked to over 7,000,000 destinations” and “knows where traffic is.” In even tinier print was the statement, “real-time traffic monitoring available in select markets…” I thought I understood that they were promoting the pervasiveness of search potential through the car’s extensive technological features. Then I searched the Internet for the phrase “turbo search engine” coupled with “Acura” only to learn that there was more to it. Notably, there is the “…image-tagging campaign that enables the targeted audience to use their fully-integrated mobile devices to be part of the promotion.” You can read the context yourself.
Well, I am still trying to get my head around this fourth point to understand how important it is to helping companies find solid, practical search solutions to problems they face in business enterprises. I don’t believe that a parking lot full of Acura’s is something I will recommend.
Fifth, I experienced some additional thoughts about the place for search technology this week. Technology experts like Sue Feldman of IDC and Fern Halper of Hurwitz & Associates appeared on a panel at the Text Analytics Summit. While making clear the distinctions between search and text analytics, and text analytics and text mining, Sue also made clear that algorithmic techniques employed by the various tools being demonstrated are distinct for each solving different problems in different business situations. She and others acknowledge that finally, having embraced search, enterprises are now adopting significant applications using text analytic techniques to make better sense of all the found content.
Integration was a recurring theme at the conference, even as it was also obvious that no one product embodies the full range of text search, mining and analytics that any one enterprise might need. When tools and technologies are procured in silos, good integration is a tough proposition, and a costly one. Tacking on one product after another and trying to retrofit to provide a seamless continuum from capturing, storing, and organizing content to retrieving and analyzing the text in it, takes forethought and intelligent human design. Even if you can’t procure the whole solution to all your problems at once, and who can, you do need a vision of where you are going to end up so that each deployment is a building block to the whole architecture.
There is a lot to discover at conferences that can’t be learned through search, like what you absorb in a random mix of presentations, discussions and demos that can lead to new insights or just a confirmation of the optimal path to a cohesive plan.

A Story About Structured Content and Search

Today was spent trying to sift through four distinct piles of paper, a backlog of email messages, and managing my calendar. My goal was first to get rid of documents and articles that are too old or irrelevant to “deal with.” The remainder I intended to catalog in my database, file in the appropriate electronic folder, or place in a new pile as a “to-do list.” This final pile plus my email “In Box” would then be systematically assigned to a spot in my calendar for the next six weeks. I did have deadlines to meet, but they depended on other people sending me content, which never came. So I kept sifting and organizing. As you can guess, the day that began with lofty intentions of getting to the bottom of the piles so that I could prioritize my real work is ending, instead, with this blog entry. It is not the one I began for this week four days ago.
First, the most ironic moment of the day came from the last pile in which I turned over an article that must have made an impression in 1997, from Newsweek it was entitled Drowning in Data. I knew I shouldn’t digress, again, but reading it confirmed what I already knew. We all have been “drowning in data” since at least 1997 and for all the same reasons we were back then, Internet publishing, email, voice mail, and faxes (well not so much anymore). It has the same effect as it did ten years ago on “info-stressed” professionals; it makes us all want to go slower so we can think about what is being thrown at us. Yes, that is why I was isolated trying to bring order to the info-glut on my desks. The article mentioned that “the average worker in a large corporation sent and received an astounding 177 messages a day…”
That is the perfect segue to my next observation. In the course of the day, while looking for emails needed to meet deadlines, I emptied over 300 messages from my Junk Mailbox, over 400 from my Deleted Mailbox, and that left me with just 76 in my In Mailbox, which I will begin acting on when I finish this blog entry. (Well, may-be after dinner.) What happened today that caused six different search vendors to send invitations to Webinars or analyst briefings? Oh well, when I finally get around to filling out my calendar for the next six weeks I will probably find out that some, if not all, conflict with appointments I already have. So, may-be I should finish the calendar before responding to the emails.
In the opening of this story I mentioned four distinct piles; I lied. As one document was replaced by another, I discovered that there was no unifying theme for any one pile. So much for categorization, but I did find some important papers that required immediate action, which I took.
Finally, I uncovered an article from http://techweb.cmp.com/iw in 1996. The Information Week archives don’t go back that far but the title was Library on an Intranet. It described a Web-based system for organizing corporate information by Sequent Computer Systems. I know why I saved it; because I had developed and was marketing corporate library systems to run over company networks back in 1980. I did find a reference to the Sequent structured system for organizing and navigating corporate content. You will find it at: http://www.infoloom.com/gcaconfs/WEB/seattle96/lmd.HTM#N136. It is a very interesting read.
What a ride we have had trying to corral this info-glut electronically for over 30 years. From citation searching using command languages in the 1970s, to navigation and structured searching in library systems in the 1980s and 90s, to Web-based navigation coupled with full-text searching in the mid-90s; it never ends. And I am still trying to structure my paper piles into a searchable collection of content.
May-be browsing the piles isn’t such a bad idea after-all. I never would have found those articles using “search” search.
Postscript: This really happened. When I finished this blog entry and went to place the “Drowning…” article on a pile I never got to, there on the top was an article from Information Week, April 9, 2007, entitled “Too Much Information.” I really didn’t need to read the lecturing subtitle: Feeling overwhelmed? You need a comprehensive strategy, not a butterfly net, to deal with data overload. I can assure you, I wasn’t waving butterfly nets all day.

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