Month: July 2007

The Marginal Influence of E-commerce Search and Taxonomies on Enterprise Search Technologies

As we gear up for Gilbane Boston 2007, the number of possible topics to include in the tracks related to search seems boundless. The search business is in a transitional state but in spite of disarray is still pivotal in its impact on business and current culture. The sessions will reflect the diversity in the market.
One trend is quite clear; the amount of money and effort being expended for Web search or site search on commercial Web sites is a winner in the “search technology” revenues war with annual revenues measuring well into the $billions. On the other hand, a recent Gartner study described the 2006 revenues for enterprise search as below $400M. This figure comes from reading an excellent article, Enterprise Search: Seek and Maybe You’ll Find, by Ben DuPont in Intelligent Enterprise. Check it out.
The distinctions between search on the Web and search within the enterprise are numerous but here are two. First, Internet Web search revenue is all about marketing. Yes, we use it to discover, learn, find facts, and become more informed. But when companies supplying search technology to expose you to their content on the Internet they do so to facilitate commerce. If it falls into the hands of organizations that have other intent, libraries or government agencies, so be it.
As we all know, when we are at work, seeking to discover, learn or find facts to do our jobs better, we need a different kind of search. Thus, we seek a clear search winner built just for our enterprise with all of its idiosyncrasies. The problem is that what is inside does not look like the rest of the world’s content as it is aggregated for commercial views. Enterprises are unique and operate sometimes chaotically, or, at best, with nuanced views of what information is most important.
The second distinction relates to taxonomies, and the increase in their development and use. I’ve seen a dramatic increase in job postings for “taxonomists” and have managed several projects for enterprises over the years to build these controlled lists of terms for categorizing content. What is noteworthy about recent job opportunities is that most seem to be for customer facing Web sites. Historically, organizations with substantial internal content (e.g. research reports, patents, laboratory findings, business documents) hired professionals to categorize materials for a narrowly defined audience of specialists. The terminology was often highly unique, could number in the hundreds or thousands of terms, even for a relatively small enterprise. This is no longer a common practice.
Slow financial growth in enterprise search markets is no surprise. Like many tools designed and marketed for departments not directly tied to revenue generation, search goes begging for solid vertical markets. Search’s companion technologies are also struggling to find a lucrative toehold for use within the organization. Content management systems integrated with rich and efficient taxonomy building and maintenance functions are hard to find.
I am confident that tools in CMS products for building and maintaining complex taxonomies will not improve until enterprises find a solid business reason to put professional human resources into doing content management, taxonomy development, search, and text analytics on their most important knowledge assets. This is a tough business proposition compared to the revenues being driven on the Internet. What businesses need to keep in mind is that without the ability to leverage their internal knowledge content assets better, smarter and faster, there won’t be innovative products in the pipeline to generate commerce. Losing track of your valuable intellectual resources is not a good long term strategy. Once you begin committing to solid content resource management strategies, enterprise technology products will improve to meet your needs.

Search and Need

Since an attempt to parse, in the simplest terms, the “enterprise search” market in January, I have been exposed to no less than 77 products and vendors whose offerings have been brought to my attention. Add to that another 20 or 30 peripheral offerings in the text mining and text analytics sphere and you’ll understand why the need for a focused view when considering products.
Selling and marketing at its best sells to a need. Need expresses something about users, user behaviors, user requirements, and problems to be solved. Need also implies emotions and that may present a problem when it comes to making business decisions. Nothing plays into emotional business decisions like money, as illustrated by one IT manager’s reaction to this week’s Yahoo News story about Google offering its search appliance for small Web sites for $100 for up to 5,000 pages. Noting that $500/year would support up to 50,000 Web pages, he thought it could be a solution for the company’s intranet. In a tough budget situation it seemed to make sense because the maintenance fee for current search software far exceeds $500.
Let’s be clear, Google is offering site search for a Web site on the World-wide Web, not internal enterprise sites. There is a huge difference in the number of variables to be considered not the least of which are:
1. Who is authoring and maintaining the target content, and what do they expect to have the search engine do with the tags and content?
2. Who are the users, what are they looking for, and how do they expect it to be displayed?
3. What is the software providing in the way of managing and supporting metadata?
4. Where is the software going to run and be maintained?
5. What are the security and authorization considerations?
6. What about all the internal content that is not “Web pages” (e.g. PDFs, spreadsheets, slide shows, images) with their associated metadata that may not be supported in this license but are fundamental to an enterprise search solution?
7. What do page ranking and ad management have to do with internal search requirements?
Just to be clear, there are other solutions that may come with levels of Web site search support that are more suited to many small organizations, internal and external. This week I learned more about one such offering, PicoSearch that has options from free to very reasonable monthly charges bundled with service for hosting search for an organization’s content. It can also provide some levels of password protection and security controls. This may not be an optimal choice for organizations with complex and multi-faceted search interfaces but could be perfect for associations, educational institutions, and small businesses with straightforward product lines.
Keep in mind, inexpensive does not mean “cheap” and it is also not the first qualifying criteria for what is “appropriate.”

Random Notes from the World on Search

A week late I am wrapping up my first six months blogging for The Gilbane Group on enterprise search. I am attempting a retrospective of discoveries, thoughts and issues that surfaced in second quarter. June was especially busy and now that I have had time to sort the sortable here are a few noteworthy highlights and reflections on them. In short, the search market is complex and becoming more so on a monthly basis.
Google the company and Google the product suite are so dominant that any article about search in the mainstream or technical presses evokes the “G-word.” This happens even if Google is not the main topic.

Consider for example Walter Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal in this article June 28, “Ask.com Takes Lead in Designing Display of Search Results.” The first paragraph never mentioned Ask.com but began “Google and other search companies …” On the same page was an article “Start-ups Make Inroads with Google’s Work Force.” Earlier that week the New York Times ran a story “The Human Touch that May Loosen Google’s Grip,” MassHighTech referred to Google throughout an article “Why the Best Search Marketers are Right-Brained,” and Intelligent Enterprise did as well in “Enterprise Search: Seek and Maybe You’ll Find.” [More about the latter further on.] A search on www.Clusty.com for “Google” under News>Top News today gets 89 hits and “Toyota” 49.

Korea presents us with a take on Internet search that I think is highly relevant to the enterprise search market as described in the New York Times, July 5 in “South Koreans Connect Through Search Engine.” It turns out that the amount of content in Korean on the WWW is so scanty that Google is irrelevant. Instead a five year-old company, Naver.com is giving Koreans what they really need, answers to questions native Koreans are seeking, built up collaboratively through their cultural “helpfulness.” Naver.com services 77% of all Internet “searches originating in South Korea.” Just as Google can’t deliver to a Korean population what it wants to know, Google can’t really “understand” all of the information needs nuances in culturally diverse enterprises. Naver maintains “questions and answers in proprietary databases not shared with other portals or search engines” as well an enterprise might want to do.

At the Red Herring conference in Boston on June 28, a panel of industry leaders, in a session entitled “The New Frontier in Search” was asked by the moderator whether there will “be any major breakthroughs in semantic search in the next ten years.” The answer from all four including Jeff Cutler of Answers.com and Doug Leeds of Ask.com was an unequivocal , “NO!” I have a list of over 30 companies working on or publicly “sniffing around” the semantic search marketplace. Others are sure to be engaged in stealth work so “not in ten years” is hard to digest but who really knows?

Also at Red Herring, in an interview with EMC’s Mark Lewis, he emphasized a compelling issue for enterprise search, “security,” namely authentication for permission to view search results. In another panel session moderated by Judy Hurwitz on SOA, the security issue was even more dominant as speakers discussed the complexities of integrating heterogeneous applications in a SOA environment while maintaining security integrity. As the number of variables in the architecture rises, so too the technical difficulties of making secure content really secure in search.

The Enterprise Search landscape is pretty crowded with companies that are more focused on helping us find what is in the organization than what is on an enterprise’s Web site. Summarizing the challenges these vendors face is the aforementioned article, “Enterprise Search: Seek and Maybe You’ll Find.” Their market is my beat but grappling with the realities of serving such diverse audiences is a serious necessity.

OK, this blog entry is already too long but you get the idea. The fact that the New York Times has recently had at least one article a week relating to search technologies is really a business marker. While search was introduced to professional searchers 35 years ago, it has been a real sleeper for most of the decades since. Web technology is truly the enabler of so much that makes search work for the masses in so many environments. It’s pretty clear that although search is ubiquitous in the workplace, its commodity status and the normalizing of enterprise search protocols are still a few years off. It is going to be interesting to see who stumbles and who prevails of the current bumper crop of offerings. Or will another disruption take us into more innovative forms of search?

Stay tuned for the next six months – I’m predicting more shakeout in the industry and more adoption of different flavors of search in more organizations. Trying to keep up will be the primary challenge.

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