Month: August 2007

Mobile Search, Etc. and Early Adoption

It was inevitable that the search market would rapidly expand into the mobile device market and the number of new and established vendors with options for your cell phone or PDA is a daily feast of reading. Combined with other new search options promising voice-enabled search, semantic search, search federating internal with Web and deep Web content, the possibilities for having search served up to suit anyone seem endless.
Tracking over 70 vendors with enterprise search offerings is plenty for me to focus on at the moment. However, as I read the publicity releases and descriptions inviting me to be briefed, in the back of my mind I know that business travelers need access to all kinds of enterprise content regardless of their locale. I worry that my skepticism about mobile search for enterprise content says more about my age than the technology. I might be thinking about struggling with tiny screens and buttons in less than optimal viewing conditions. But I am open to the possibilities and know it will become pervasive, as will all the other flavors of search.
Caution: before jumping into hot new offerings for enterprise search or any other technology, take a deep breath and think about some consequences of being that early adopter.
Security models for enterprise search in which content is being aggregated or federated from across numerous structured and unstructured content repositories is a very big issue, takes lots of planning, mapping, and time to deploy and test. Add the considerations of a start-up vendor dealing with your precious knowledge assets in a wireless world and you might think twice.
Recent CIO Research, CIO Vendor Report Card results for 52 top IT vendors broke out statistics in several areas. The responding audience ranked as their highest priorities two that would be very hard to judge for a new offering:
> (Vendor) Delivers on Promises
> Ongoing Support after the Sale and Implementation
Another statistic that was reported in the CIO Vendor Report Card was a measure of the likelihood that the respondent would be willing to recommend the vendor. This reminds us of a critical issue that early adopters of new products and technologies can’t easily resolve, finding recommenders or product case studies.
I don’t want to pick on mobile search especially; there is so much hot stuff coming down the pipeline that it is easy to get carried away. But a sign to take it slowly is when your own enterprise is struggling to keep up with new releases of products from known companies, and lags behind in fully exploiting technology you already have. The hottest “must haves” won’t even make it through initial deployment in this environment. Making certain that enterprise search is working well within the organization is a necessary and critical first step. Having a vendor with a track record and happy customers is a close second.

Sharepoint and Search

Sharepoint repositories are a prime content target for most search engines in the enterprise search arena, judging from the number of announcements I’ve previewed from search vendors in the last six month. This list is long and growing (Names link to press releases or product pages for Sharepoint search enabling):

Almost a year ago I began using a pre-MOSS version of Sharepoint to collect documents for a team activity. Ironically, the project was the selection, acquisition, implementation of a (non-Sharepoint) content management system to manage a corporate intranet, extranet, and hosted public Web site. The version of Sharepoint that was “set up” for me was strictly out of the box. Not being a development, I was still able to muddle my way through setting up the site, established users, posting announcements and categories of content to which I uploaded about fifty or sixty documents.

The most annoying discovery was the lack of a default search option. Later updating to MOSS solved the problem but at the time it was a huge aggravation. Because I could not guarantee a search option would appear soon enough, I had to painstakingly create titles with dates in order to give team members a contextual description as they would browse the site. Some of the documents I wanted to share were published papers and reviews of products. Dates were not too relevant for those, so I “enhanced” the titles with my own notations to help the finders select what they needed.

These silly “homemade” solutions are not uncommon when a tool does not anticipate how we would want to be able to use it. They persist as ways to handle our information storage and retrieval challenges. Since the beginning of time humans have devised ways to store things that they might want to re-use at some point in the future. Organizing for findability is an art as much at it is science. Information science only takes one so far in establishing the organizing criteria and assigning those criteria to content. Search engines that rely strictly on the author’s language will leave a lot of relevant content on the shelf for the same reasons as using Dewey Decimal classification without the complementary card catalog of subject topics. The better search engines exploit every structured piece of data or tagged content associated with a document, and that includes all the surrounding metadata assigned by “categorizers.” Categorizers might be artful human indexers or automated processes. Search engines with highly refined, intelligent categorizers to enable semantically rich finding experiences bring even more sophistication to the search experience.

But back to Sharepoint, which does have an embedded search option now, I’ve heard more than one expert comment on the likelihood that it will not be the “search” of choice for Sharepoint. That is why we have so many search options scrambling to promote their own Sharepoint search. This is probably because the organizing framework around contributing content to Sharepoint is so loosey goosey that an aggregation of many Sharepoint sites across the organization will be just what we’ve experienced with all these other homegrown systems – a dump full of idiosyncratic organizing tricks.

What you want to do, thoughtfully, is assess whether the search engine you need will share only Sharepoint repositories OR both structured and unstructured repositories across a much larger domain of types of content and applications. It will be interesting to evaluate the options that are out there for searching Sharepoint gold mines. Key questions: Is a product targeting only Sharepoint sites or diverse content? How will content across many types of repositories be aggregated and reflected organized results displays? How will the security models of the various repositories interact with the search engine? Answering these three questions first will quickly narrow your list of candidates for enterprise search.

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