Enterprise search – seeing is believing

I’ve just come back from taking part in very successful Intranets 2012 conference in Sydney. The theme of my keynote presentation was on the need to keep a balance between intranet information architecture, search and alerts. My experience is that most intranet managers focus on optimising information architecture as the primary information discovery tool, and pay little attention to alerting users to new relevant information or to the provision of good search performance. Organisations are using the Google ESA or SharePoint Search Server and regard search as ‘sorted’ without any consideration of whether these search applications actually meet the requirements of users.

Sitting on my desk is a replica of an Oscar gained from winning a very entertaining session at Intranets 2012 when four of us had to convince the audience that our views of the future of intranets were realistic. My pitch was that a good search application would take away the need to have any information architecture hierarchy as it could just as easily be accomplished through filters and faceted generated by the search application.  During the course of my keynote I demonstrated the ‘Draw a Search’ capability on the Rightmove site to show that you do not need to put a search term on a search box. What became clear in discussions with delegates after the presentation is that there is little awareness of the power of search technology to provide semantically-informed search results. It is well worth reading the set of recent blog posts from Tony Russell-Rose on designing search, especially his most recent posting on displaying search results. I also like the video from IBM on its approach to content analytics. I’ve used it in a number of presentations and workshops to provide delegates with a vision of what can be accomplished with the current generation of search technologies.

Whilst in Sydney I took the opportunity to get a briefing from Isys-Search on Version 10 of their search application. This offers what Isys-Search describes as an InformationMap interface, presenting graphically the ‘connections’ between search terms. This is just one example of the sort of capability that many search companies now offer to drill down into a results set, supporting a dialogue between the user and the search application. Despite the fact that for  potential purchasers  “seeing is believing”  both in the initial evaluation of search software and then in the proof-of-concept stage of the procurement, in general vendors do a very poor job of presenting the power of their user interfaces.

If you want to find out more about developments in user interfaces and in enterprise search technology in general I hope you won’t mind me reminding you as Conference Chair there is still time to register for the Enterprise Search Europe 2012 conference next week in London!

Martin White