Notes from Enterprise Search Summit — East

Posted: May 28, 2008 in EnterpriseSearch, folksonomy, implement, KnowledgeManagement, tagging, taxonomy, TradeShow


Last week I attended the ESS show at the New York Hilton. I think the most salient smoke screen to hit my radar was the game-changing notion that a successful search deployment (and there are more than a few to be found) shifts the stakes from a user to provider-centric view of enterprise content. But the first few steps are tentative. This is not so much a groundswell as a groundbreaker — and once it catches fire, a deal-breaker too: Want to improve user experience? Increase provider participation.

The distinctions that once colored content producers and contributions continue to bleed together. If I offer an opinion about how well an instruction helps me do my job am I a passive consumer or an engaged community member? If I download a bunch of presentations and preview several others am I identified as a content collector? Does my mounting collection signify a degree of influence that the author has over my efforts to absorb, master, and ultimately leverage this material? No matter what the motivation, no matter what the conclusion … what we do with content will one day eclipse the content itself.

My favorite new feature on display at the show was a passive approach to meta content, a.k.a. content about content. A vendor named BA-Insight has devised an ingenius way to capture the secret life of documents. These secrets reveal what sway the ideas conveyed by our peers have over us. In the publishing world this is a simple units sold formula. Behind the corporate firewall this is called a Wiki that gets updated almost as often as a freshly proposed solution is minted as a new product innovation, business model, or marketing approach. No matter what the end game it’s a provider’s market and the easier it is to reach it, shape it, and build on it, arguably the better the outcome.

So how did this play out at the vendor booth? BA-Insight’s Longitude product collects all kinds of passive feedback — downloads, previews, tagging, and other recordable sessions events take the opt-in approach to a whole new level of discretion. Essentially the record button is pegged to the user ID, rendering the idea of an active observer to that of the actions taken by that same user. This approach to meta-content is completely passive, preserving an untampered search session. That means no gaming, back-scratching, user surveys, or votes to cast (the equivalent of internal pop-ups). This is user feedback of the purest, organic degree. Perhaps the purity is why the team from Accenture that provided the case study has so far shied away from this feature?

The other nice-to-haves are alluring to any professional services shop that belches, respirates, and wheezes in PowerPoint. For instance Longitude’s preview pane decouples bloated ZIP folders (the last refuge of a knowledge provider with no time or incentive to upload their stuff. Not only can you cut and paste right out of preview but you also see the pockets of relevance by page number, adhering to your keywords.

All the whizbangetry was blown away however by Kevin Dana’s elegant and sparing AJAX customization that registers a keyword lookup on Accenture’s back-end index. This search suggestion feature would come in handy for any enterprise where the user base is not graded on keyword creativity but their ability to reshape existing outputs in the form they’ve been tasked to regenerate. Creative? Well maybe on someone else’s clock and with someone else’s IP!

The search sugestion feature comes to mind when considering Tuesday morning’s panel led by Jean Graef on social search where a discussion about user inputs into enterprise search quickly led to a familiar tradition-bound versus web 2.0 fight on who was better equipped to carry the findability mantle into the next round of version-dot-placeholder. MITRE’s Laurie Damianos says that much of the collective intelligence (and foundational content) added in her enterprise comes from employees’ pre-existing Del.icio.us tags. MITRE has built and fielded a social bookmarking prototype, creating public profiles from RSS feeds for internal indexing. Damianos says the effort has led to a referral system, promoting common tags and using recommendations for similar labels. She also raised the often overlooked question of content lifecycle management and the link root brought on by broken links and outdated page references. The team currently enforces freshness by purging all tags that go inactive after 90 days.

I thought the real panel-stumper was put to the next roundtable on BI Tools hosted by Steve Arnold. Graf Mouen of ABC News asked what Arnold, Northern Light’s David Seuss, ISYS’s Derek Murphy and SAP’s Alexander Maedche saw in terms of their accounts investing the needed resources in something more critical than tagging feeds, search tools, preview panes, and text analytics — that resource is on the firm’s own domain experts. All deployments regardless of technology, vendor, cost, and implementation smarts can only go so far without their participation. The sober answer of “not much” belied the unnatural state of seeing Seuss and Arnold in actual agreement.

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