While considering what is most important in selecting the search tools for any given enterprise application, I took a few minutes off to look at the New York Times. This article, He Wrote 200,000 Books (but Computers Did Some of the Work), by Noam Cohen, gave me an idea about how to compare Internet search with enterprise search.
A staple of librarians’ reference and research arsenal has been a category of reference material called “bibliographies of bibliographies.” These works, specific to a subject domain, are aimed at a usually scholarly audience to bring a vast amount of content into focus for the researcher. Judging from the article, that is what Mr. Parker’s artificial intelligence is doing for the average person who needs general information about a topic. According to at least one reader, the results are hardly scholarly.
This article points out several things about computerized searching:

  • It does a very good job of finding a lot of information easily.
  • Generalized Internet searching retrieves only publicly accessible, free-for-consumption, content.
  • Publicly available content is not universally vetted for accuracy, authoritativeness, trustworthiness, or comprehensiveness, even though it may be all of these things.
  • Vast amounts of accurate, authoritative, trustworthy and comprehensive content does exist in electronic formats that search algorithms used by Mr. Parker or the rest of us on the Internet will never see. That is because it is behind-the-firewall or accessible only through permission (e.g. subscription, need-to-know). None of his published books will serve up that content.

Another concept that librarians and scholars understand is that of primary source material. It is original content, developed (written, recorded) by human beings as a result of thought, new analysis of existing content, bench science, or engineering. It is often judged, vetted, approved or otherwise deemed worthy of the primary source label by peers in the workplace, professional societies or professional publishers of scholarly journals. It is often the substance of what get republished as secondary and tertiary sources (e.g. review articles, bibliographies, books).
We all need secondary and tertiary sources to do our work, learn new things, and understand our work and our world better. However, advances in technology, business operations, and innovation depend on sharing primary source material in thoughtfully constructed domains in our enterprises of business, healthcare, or non-profits. Patient’s laboratory or mechanical device test data that spark creation of primary source content need surrounding context to be properly understood and assessed for value and relevancy.
To be valuable enterprise search needs to deliver context, relevance, opportunities for analysis and evaluation, and retrieval modes that give the best results for any user seeking valid content. There is a lot that computerized enterprise search can do to facilitate this type of research but that is not the whole story. There must still be real people who select the most appropriate search product for that enterprise and that defined business case. They must also decide content to be indexed by the search engine based on its value, what can be secured with proper authentication, how it should be categorized appropriately, and so on. To throw a computer search application at any retrieval need without human oversight is a waste of capital. It will result in disappointment, cynicism and skepticism about the value of automating search because the resulting output will be no better than Mr. Parker’s books.