Is there too much magic in search?

There has been a lot of comment recently about whether Autonomy really is powered by magic. HP may think so, but I could not possibly comment. Then this week the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Search 2013 was released and companies rushed out press releases about their awards for leadership and vision. Up there in the top right quadrant of Leaders with an Ability to Execute is Google with its search appliance. Gartner always balances the good news and the bad (‘cautions’) news. So let me look at the cautions for Google, which remember is right up there with the best (i.e. Oracle and Microsoft).

  • The process for understanding why a particular set of results is returned to the user is particularly difficult. Google considers its relevancy calculation models to be a precious competitive differentiator and that it is therefore appropriate to keep them opaque. 
  • Google’s federation options are simple to use, but lag behind those of vendors that have sought to develop this aspect of their products more completely.
  • Administration reporting capabilities are less strong than some customers might consider necessary.

Let me try to translate. On the basis of this analysis if you buy a Google Search Appliance  then you will have the greatest difficulty understanding why items in a particular set of results have been returned, the federated search options are not very powerful and the reporting capabilities are not really all that good. And in addition Gartner note that it has seen a reduction in the number of enquiries about the Google appliance from its clients.

When I look at the comments on Microsoft and Oracle then I also have some difficulty in understanding why they are leaders and have significant power to execute. I don’t necessarily disagree with the comments from Gartner; I’m just trying to work out why the these three companies are in the top right quadrant as the best of breed of the search business when in each case I feel the Cautions overwhelm the Strengths. The cautions for LucidWorks are that it has no widgets or apps for mobile. So every other vendor does?  Along the way I noticed that according to Gartner Perceptive Software is a small Australian company. Someone needs to let Lexmark know. It turned over $126M in 2012 which is quite a decent number in this business sector.

I knew a magician once. He made the tricks look absolutely effortless. Over a drink later he told me that one of his card tricks had taken over two years of daily practice to perfect. Search may look like magic to users but if it does not deliver the experience and information they were looking for then there is going to be a need for a lot of hard work every day behind the scenes.

Come along to Enterprise Search Europe on 15-16 May or Enterprise Search Summit in New York on 21-22 May and find out for yourself how to make search seem like magic. Ed Dale knows how!

Martin White