This story brought me up short: Future of Data: Encoded in DNA by Robert Lee Hotz in the Wall Street Journal, Aug. 16, 2012. It describes how “…researchers encoded an entire book into the genetic molecules of DNA, the basic building block of life, and then accurately read back the text.” The article then went on to quote Harvard University’s project senior researcher, molecular geneticist, George Church as saying, “A device the size of your thumb could store as much information as the whole Internet. While this concept intrigues and excites me for the innovation and creative thinking, it stimulates another thought, as well. Stop the madness of content overload first – force it to be managed responsibly.

While I have been sidelined from blogging for a couple of months, industry pundits have been contributing their comments, reflections and guidance on three major topics. Big Data tops the list, with analytics a close second, rounded out by contextual relevance as an ever present content findability issue. In November at Gilbane Boston the program features a study conducted by Findwise, Enterprise Search and Findability Survey,2012, which you can now download. It underscores a disconnect between what enterprise searchers want and how search is implemented (or not), within their organizations. As I work to assemble content, remarks and readings for an upcoming graduate course on “Organizing and Accessing Information and Knowledge,” I keep reminding myself what knowledge managers need to know about content to make it accessible.

So, how would experts for our three dominant topics solve the problems illustrated in the Findwise survey report?

For starters, organizations must be more brutal with content housekeeping, or more specifically housecleaning. As we debate whether our country is as great at innovation as in generations past, consider big data as a big barrier. Human beings, even brilliant ones, can only cope with so much information in their waking working hours. I posit that we have lost the concept of primary source content, in other words content that is original, new or innovative. It is nearly impossible to hone in on information that has never been articulated in print or electronically disseminated before, excluding all the stuff we have seen, over and over again. Our concept of terrific search is to be able to traverse and aggregate everything “out there” with no regard for what is truly conceptually new. How much of that “big data” is really new and valuable? I am hoping that other speakers at Gilbane Boston 2012 can suggest methods for crunching through the “big” to focus search on the best, most relevant and singular primary source information.

Second, others have commented, and I second the idea, that analytic tools can contribute significantly to cleansing search domains of unwanted and unnecessary detritus. Search tools that auto-categorize and cross-categorize content, whether the domain is large or small should be employed during any launch of a new search engine to organize content for quick visual examination, showing you where metadata is wrong, mis-characterized, or poorly tagged. Think of a situation where templates are commonly used for enterprise reports and the name of the person who created the template becomes the “author” of every report. Spotting this type of problem and taking steps to remediate and cleanse metadata, before deploying the search system is a fundamental practice that will contribute to better search outcomes. With thoughtful management, this type of exercise will also lead to corrective actions on the content governance side by pointing to how metadata must be handled. Analytics functions that leverage search to support cleaning up data stores are among the most practical tools now packaged with newer search products.

Finally, is the issue of vocabulary management and assigning terminology that is both accurate and relevant for a specific community that needs to find content quickly and without multiple versions, or without content that is just a re-hash of earlier findings published by the originator. Original publication dates, source information and proper author attribution are key elements of metadata that must be in place for any content that is targeted for crawling and indexing. When metadata is complete and accurate, a searcher can expect the best and most relevant content to rise to the top of a results page.

I hope others in a position to do serious research (perhaps a PhD dissertation) will take up my challenge to codify how much of “big data” is really worthy of being found – again, again, and again. In the meantime, use the tools you have in the search and content management technologies to get brutal. Weed the unwanted and unnecessary content so that you can get down to the essence of what is primary, what is good, and what is needed.