Archive for the ‘EnterpriseSearch’ Category

There are two reasons that economies exist: (1) to remunerate the owners of capital to the optimal degree; and (2) to maintain social stability, a.k.a. so the renters of capital keep the roofs on their backs and don’t storm the gates of McMansionville

The further the U.S. strays from reason #2 the more convinced I am that there is a price for greed. There is a cost for fear. What us humans will stumble over the brambles of adversity in the life auction to bid for at any price is stability. What’s the market doing today — name your price. It’s stability that’s priceless. There’s actually a third reason — electing more Republicans to public office by promising to cut the taxes of all Americans (dead or alive). But I digress. 

I showed you my economic cards to foreshadow a recent get-together with a former colleague once removed. It happened at a completely pass-up-able trade show in Boston few weeks back. I wasn’t speaking, I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t paying or expensing or conventioning any of it. But I went because it gave me the opportunity to run into folks I normally graze indirectly through a fleeting tweet or a bump on a blog. The fact that these are “chance” meetings with no formal agendas or hard stops is sometimes as appealing as the names that drop into these calendar openings.

However, there was one meeting of particular merit because it reminded me of a time in the past where terms like “career-building” and “ladder-climbing” were more than platitudes to gold watches and indentured supplicants. The gentleman I was meeting with had just accepted a job to work as a KM grunt with a prestigious and high-flying brain factory fired from piping, fresh HBS idea ovens

George (I’ll call him here) had a much better run than I as an independent KM consultant with longer feasts, shorter famines, and enough returning engagements to get him on the short list of folks who are called into bless, validate, and handicap most big ticket enterprise content decisions.

What search engine do we buy? Why is garbage-in, garbage-out the only process flow that works with any regularity in our document life-cycle? George was the guy who could address the daunting and predictable questions  looming on  the radars of cash-rich, strategically impoverished IT shops left minding the information management store.

Maybe it was another college tuition to meet? Perhaps it was a spouse furloughed by the uncertainty that the future includes a place for over educated Americans who expect promotions and raises? Maybe it was the shock of knowing that mom and dad are now not just confusing our names with our siblings but referring to us as their own siblings

Whatever landed over the top on the wrong side of the watershed  bed, George decided that being paid twice a month was preferable to the prospect of fatter, inconsistent pay days. He confided that it stung a little to see no press release parading the new home of his worthy track record and talents. The simple fact is that companies don’t crow about their costs and George’s new employer doesn’t sell KM consulting for a living. 

Do they want to deliberate about how the only thing standing between them and bigger deals is better knowledge-sharing? Nope. And especially nope if they can’t bill for it. Community-building? IP propagation? That’s what we hired you to do, George. Let us know when you’ve fixed it and we’ll have something.

I sympathize with George — to a point. But then I need to remind him — not of his senile parents or farcical former clients but that he is now firmly under the radar and cleared for take-off. This is a glide-path where he can pilot the hypotheticals. The slideware is gone.  Every new hire is not just a collegial grunt but a recruitment opportunity: what is it from me you expect? If the answer is a blank stare, I’ll mold the fillings. You’ll be pedaling your fulfillment right out of our showroom (or intranet for those of you viewing at work).

It’s worth noting that in my own family my wife had her own recent breakthrough on working stiff etiquette.  Rather than lamenting the fact that her basket case nonprofit closes its firewall to remote access, she saw her dysfunctional IT operation as the gift that it is — six uninterrupted hours on Acela to wifi her way to a job that leaves her alone long enough to live her life.  

In conclusion, George, believe your indoctrination into the land of working stiffs will offer its own rewards – not the least of which is far greater flexibility to unleash your pragmatic creative problem-solving in an environment that will benefit your new colleagues in ways they scarcely know.

The choice of text versus numbers is starting to ring false. The trade-off between relational tables and keywords is no longer a stretch or a compromise. The missing ingredient isn’t the optimal content database or the more responsive search tool but the outcomes that live in the cross-hairs between traditional BI and conventional keyword matches, and what began many formatting standards ago as decision support.

The purpose of SearchBoards is to classify content on a granular level. The goal is not panning for knowledge gold but to scratch the itch that prompts the question. Searchboarding doesn’t retrieve articles and files, Search Targeting informs what happens next. As Judith Jaffe, Knowledge Manager from the Risk Management Foundation put it in yesterday’s Boston KM Forum it’s to embed interventions into workflows. It’s us knowledge workers reconfiguring the juggernaut of documentable consequences. In English that means indexing spreadsheets so that the nuggets are discoverable, process-specific, action-based, and quantifiable as assets.

The counting goes beyond raw first and secondary wordcounts inherent in typical SEO analytics and goes to a tender info fantasy older than any taxonomic model. That’s flipping on a switch and having the proposal auto-generate or the diagnosis nestle in a warm bed of evidence. There’s a problem, a set of case tables, and a battery of check boxes. No one is left holding the word bag.

This is a good thing because it takes the conversation away from hit counts and page ranks and into the more tangible matters of solving problems and completing tasks. It’s not about capturing insights — yawn. It’s about the rich conversation between what we’re working with (data sources) and what we’re working on and against (projects and deadlines).

Another promising development is that when our data sources are bullets and talking points, we remove the ambiguities that are full-time occupants of Planet Google. And those doubtful citizens answer to a toppled leader called “intention.” And the lingua franca of intentionality are particles of speech. They disappear with SearchBoards. That’s because SearchBoards eliminates the source of the ambiguity — that troublesome middle man between all causes and effects called the predicate. It’s problematic because predicates are the nerve endings of human logic and they fall apart completely at the mercy of search technology.

And those search engines are as good as teaching how futile this is as they are abysmal at overcoming their own limitations. We’ve been trained well to keep our expectations low. Witness a Stanford University study cited by yesterday’s forum speaker Mark Sprague that suggests 2.4% of all search terms include verbs. No small wonder we have no idea what to do with our global information surplus.

Another tedious argument that goes away here is the Coke vs. Pepsi piss-off that parallels taxonomies and folksonomies. The liberation here is that common meeting grounds like “results” or “teams” or “industries” lend themselves to pattern-friendly sets of finite values (classification schemes). Other more fluid fields like “results” or “objectives” remain open-ended. But the rich variety of how those stories play out become the bucketed narratives on the SearchBoard results queue.

Finally the biggest payback is that we get to keep serendipitous top-of-mind association. Was there ever any doubt? And we can still bask in our most enduring content structures. What’s there not to like when the only thing we have to Google is Google itself?

I notice that whenever I give my S-Y-N-C talk the note-takers reach for their pens when the discussion comes to verbs. The action-based taxonomy that I advocate is a simple and effective way to anticipate (and eliminate) some common barriers to enterprise architecture before we crash into them:

* Hair-splitting — The chances for semantic quibbling over what to call stuff are greatly reduced when things become actions. There are many fewer ways of describing a predicate than a subject. The likelihood for shared agreements increases.

* User-centric — Instead of fighting over what to call things an action-based taxonomy helps us agree on how and why our customers draw on our content supply.

* Reporting — You can’t plot the outcomes you’re supporting (new IP, project requirements, business development) without building an architecture atop the actions needed to trigger those developments.

* 80/20 Rule — If every 80/20 rule lined up in single formation they would all be parading to the battle hymn of mother necessity; that the perfect is the enemy of the good. In our marching orders action is the most telling of all metadata elements because it reveals those deepest and fleeting mysteries of all uncharted KM waters — who wrote this sucker and who was their intended audience? Figure out that side of the shipping manifesto and: (1) you’re 80% of the way from content supply to knowledge demand; and (2) your cargo gets unpacked. Why? Because it has an identity that speaks to users.

* Disambiguation — Probably there is no greater praise for verbs than giving some long-delayed respect they deserve for disambiguation. Next time you hear yourself mutter: “use it in a sentence” tell me the word that drives you to the home of understanding isn’t a verb. And while it may be their job that’s no reason to overlook their vast powers of clarification.

I take no satisfaction to in repeating back what one CEO from an Israeli startup told me but I had to agree: “complete meltdown.”

He was referring to the lack of imagination, attendees, and reasons for showing up at Information Today’s Enterprise Search Summit. Much of the dour story is told through realities that no event planner can possibly correct. I saw the low numbers at the Boston Gilbane show last December and that was sobering. Still given the strong concentration of media/finance/law/consulting communities in and around NYC I thought enough of a core group existed to attract the vendors and analysts — maybe even some splashy announcements.

Nothin’ doin’. No luminaries — The Steve Arnolds, Sue Feldmans, Oz Benjamins — all no shows. Even the vendor speakers seemed in a hurry to finish their sessions so that we’d have more time to mix. Precious little was said or speculated on concerning FAST and its place in the Microsoft search arsenal. Even less was offered in terms of SharePoint customizations, 3rd party tools, and what’s worth planning for in the new release.

As an Information Today subscriber, contributor and speaker I have no incentive to trash their earnest efforts to stage an influential and instructive conference. It’s equally true that I did get value from going. Even in a lean year I benefitted much from exposure to Lou Rosenfeld who I had interviewed but never seen shine in a conference setting. One of the keynoters, a guy named Jared Spool gave a spot-on repudiation to the vendors; that the search bar is not the common ally of the uninformed masses but actually a tool of last resort. The guy I was teamed with on the interface track, John Ferrara, laid out an astute and telling case for the suggest function.

That said perhaps it’s time to rethink why we used to come each year. Maybe its time to consider how those reasons might be wearing thin while others that go begging could be answered in future forums?

For starters there’s very little give-and-take between attendees in terms of first-hand feedback on their specific deployments. Why not an open mic night version for info-geeks? We could kick the vendors out (or they could forget booth-sitting and pay the sponsor for eavesdropping privileges.

Another improvement would be to attempt some prototyping among breakout groups that try to advocate on behalf of their mock project. Another team could shoot it down on numerous grounds and both teams could learn a thing or two about implementation politics that are not so obvious when sequestered behind your own firewall. Dave Snowden does a far better job of describing and staging this exercise in the Art of Ritual Dissent.

Finally if I put on my dust-laden vendor cap I can imagine how these gatherings could be used to test drive my MRD requirements: what user pains are consensus-forming and which ones only apply to fringe customers? Where should I aim my priorities for upcoming releases? A face-to-face test lab might do the trick.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been nibbling away at a new approach to staging knowledge portals by staging a pilot through Google Sites. It’s the anti-intranet. It’s the thousand tiny SharePoints of light. It’s not proprietary although it is password protected. It’s a portal into something larger — not smaller than the sum of its hyperlinks. No one needs an encryptocard or a secret handshake other than the invite to join.

The one frustration is that the so-called scripts that pass for gadgets are as erratic as a unexpected and unwelcome one-two patch on a Windows update. I must have toyed with a half-dozen customizable RSS interfaces. They all fell apart the minute I went into tweak them. That’s my kneejerk response to the false positives pouring from references to Obama that include neither ‘government’ nor ‘politics.’ (Talk about departing from false positives as usual).

The ticker display widgets, especially from one source called SaneBull are a hearty lot. The driving directions from MapQuest won’t drain the batteries on your GPS compass. I am in awe of the Google spreadsheets that sing and dance or cry and mope depending on the market gyration du jour. It’s also a guilty pleasure to be searching on filetype and trolling for all these “kickass PowerPoints.” That’s not my emotional connection but those of the consultants who respirate, perspire and dream in slideware. The punch line is that it’s public domain presentations so the getting something for nothing buzz lasts a lot longer than the going rate on RSS feeds.

The nicest part about cloud computing for builders and users alike is that you’ve replaced Little IT with Big Google. And there are no bruised egos, server crashes, or even pink slips — how beneficent can Google be?

The other knot that I still haven’t untangled is that the Custom Google Search closes for business whenever I log off the web. This is never an issue on the blog where the Javascript holds the custom search in place regardless of whether hot PowerPoints can keep me burning through spent fuel rods well after the intranet shuts its doors.

Yesterday I attended Laurie Damianos’s discussion at the Boston KM Forum (“Tag Me — Social Bookmarking in the Enterprise”). I had the good fortune of meeting Laurie first at last spring’s Enterprise Search Summit.

I found that my number of questions for Laurie has increased since our last interview for the Provider Base piece set to go in the Nov/Dec Searcher. That increase is not because Laurie dodges good questions. It is inspired by the topic — the richness of the subject itself.

To her credit as a speaker Laurie led an attentive and engaging group whose inputs were both numerous and broadly distributed. Here are some of the more engrossing threads of our dynamic session:

Life in Email —

The immediate remedy at Mitre began as the antidote to a ton of email sitting on some restricted fileserver archive. Increasing access points to content was the business case. A persuasive case was made that there was an over-reliance on 1:1 communication (email) whose knowledge might prove useful to others. Interestingly the Mitre approach includes bookmarking email message based on embedded links in the message.

Anatomy of a Tag —

Do the users make up their own terms? Apparently they have the choice between a pre-formed set of suggested tags or their own. The form includes the original bookmarker and others who’ve bookmarked their entries. Laurie refers to the comment feature as “a reverse blog.”

Links to Nowhere —

Pointers need owners or the link goes stale. The broken link icon shows benefits of a link scan process that tests for 404 errors. Each owner is notified of the bookmarks they develop which they can choose to ignore, fix, or delete. Hovering over a padlock tells the user how to pick the lock (i.e. what password to use or group to contact). Users can mouse over faces and get lots of detail at a glance. When they leave the company the residual bookmarks are placed in separate account — they can be copied for 90 days or let expire.

Social Tags (Supply) and Search Terms (Demand) —

The terms that bubble to the top of the results pages are not repesented in Mitre’s subject taxonomy. According to Laurie the taxonomy is growing … slowly. The search term is creating equivalencies between search terms and tags. Governance rules are in place to maintain the folksonomy so it is not altered by an intermediary. Laurie’s team allows the differences to remain, not trying to normalize different forms of the same expression.

Expert Finders —

Administrators and gatekeepers had all the topic-related documents so they’ve been falsely deemed as experts. The same fiction occurs when a top-tagger is confused with being an expert in the subject they’re tagging. There’s no gaming of the system because there’s no built-in incentive to compete head-on or outrank the next prolific tagger.

Social Bookmark Reporting —

There’s a seven day window of the most recent popular tags. This breaks the dominance of librarian taggers as most prolific contributors. Tagging activity shows how users are related by interest area. Users can view bookmarks by department. Different sorting options including tags, bookmarks, bookmarks by department. Laurie noted some surprisingly bad taggers even as the firm’s KM enablers or “knowledge stewards.” Lynda Moulton noted that it takes mindset to do it consistently and effectively. People are getting it.

Tagging by the Numbers —

The system holds…

* 99,000 tags with 12.5K unique to the system (– doesn’t account for spelling and punctuation discrepancies)
* Average number of tags have doubled from 2.7 to 5.4
* The past three years the average is that bookmarks are 83% external

Performance Benchmarks —

According to Caterina Fake of Flickr 9-15% of population are contributors in social communities. This equates to 85-90% of users as lurkers. Fourteen percent of user population contributes at Mitre among those with access. Half of employees use the system.

Next Steps for Tagging —

Laurie mentioned an organization called LCC (“Language Computer Corporation”) that examines semantic construction of document to relate tags to each other by generating “did-you-mean-this prompts” to the content provider. It also make recommendations to other users: “you need to talk to this person.” It’s based on common interests they’re sharing beyond the recognition that their interests are shared.

Other Tagging Resources —

FURL caches the bookmarked resources. Users request feature but can’t provide it internally because of copyright restrictions. Scuttle is easy to deploy and extend. Twine is another solution with an interesting social component. ConnectBeam and DogEar were also mentioned as self-contained tagging platforms.

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 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.