By Jingo: search catchphrases.
Search, taxonomy developers, and content processing outfits--most of the companies in the information retrieval business--use what my rhetoric instructor at Duquesne University in 1967 called an adage, slogan, maxim, and apothegm, from the Greek word "apophthengesthai," which means to speak one's opinion plainly.
My take on apothegms is that they are perceived to communicate what MBAs call "the value proposition," but the precise meaning of a value proposition is fuzzy. The general idea is that a company name is insufficient to communicate what business a commercial operation pursues, so some verbal calisthenics are necessary.
Now here's a bigger challenge. The list of slogans, mottos, and catchphrases that follow come from companies engaged in enterprise search. Try matching the search vendor with the apothegm below:
* Voice of the customer
* Error tolerant
* Leading semantic search technology
* Long story short
* The power of discovery
Are you ready for the answers? Attensity uses "Voice of the customer"; Exorbyte, Inc. taps "Error tolerant"; hakia, Inc. employs "Leading semantic search technology"; OpenText Corp. disambiguates itself with "Long story short"; and Intelligenx relies on "The power of discovery."
The number of available enterprise search options is expansive, despite the economy. In my files, I list about 100 active vendors of enterprise search, some of which are unknown in the North American market. Antidot, a French vendor of findability solutions, and Discover Technologies, a vendor based in the Washington, D.C., area, are two examples. In my blog Beyond Search in May 2008, I made a list of the tag lines used by 34 vendors in business at the time (http://goo.gl/pq89H).
Since I wrote that article nearly 4 years ago, the consumerization of information technology has disrupted the way many people access information. The rush for apps has become a stampede. The touch interface of the iPhone has pushed keyword search to the periphery. Google forces the user to think up a query and type one or more words into a search box. The system then displays what are perceived as objective results comparable to what a commercial online service such as Lexis provides to an attorney.
Three years ago, the most popular words to describe search were "search," "solutions," "text," "understand," "information," and "business." What is more striking is that the five examples of 2012 slogans exist without a connection to the consumerization of information access. So, what are these companies selling?
Three indicators of the crisis in which search-and-content processing vendors find themselves underscore the futility of using slogans to make sales. I understand that major findability vendors find themselves between the unyielding jaws of revenue generation and cost control.
The first point of discomfort is the disappearance of big-name enterprise search vendors. The firms have been snapped up because the big dogs had reasonable revenue and a significant number of paying customers. Examples include IBM's $500 million purchase of the content processing system developed by Michael Hunter and marketed as i2. The company's Analyst's Notebook product is in use in a significant number of police and intelligence agencies around the world. Oracle Corp. acquired Endeca, founded in the late 1990s, for $1.1 billion.
The Big Bertha of search deals was HP's purchase of Autonomy Corp., the "meaning based computing" company, for $11 billion. Even the lords of finance at The Carlyle Group were probably stunned when the deal was finalized. Autonomy's revenues were in the $800-million-per-year range, so the multiple of revenues was 12.5. Autonomy's Michael Lynch noted that Autonomy had about 60,000 customers, so HP paid $167,000 per customer.
Between 2008 and the end of 2011, the Big Four of enterprise search were acquired: Autonomy, Endeca, Fast Search & Transfer, and Exalead. Dassault Systemes acquired Exalead in 2010 for $160 million; Convera Corp. went out of business; Google continues to market its Google Search Appliance, but the company's interest in other, presumably more lucrative, lines of business has made the cheery yellow boxes an afterthought. But what company has surged into prominence as the leading vendor of enterprise search? Identifying the heirs apparent is almost as difficult as matching the slogans to the companies using them. For me, this first trend is that no single company has the magnetism of the leading vendors in 2008. Perhaps search no longer matters?
The second pressure point is the rise in open source options. In a recent issue of ONLINE, the sister publication to Information Today, I wrote about Lucid Imagination and its free enterprise search system, which is based on Apache Solr/Lucene. Using this platform, an organization can download a bundle that includes the code necessary to deploy an enterprise search system from a single firm. Open source search solutions are also available from SearchBlox Software, Inc.; PolySpot; The Apache Software Foundation; and Lemur Consulting Ltd. in Cambridge, England through its Flax Platform.
The Flax system is based on Xapian and Solr/Lucene, but enterprise search is now available without charge. IBM has jumped on the bandwagon. OmniFind and IBM's other search solutions, including Watson, rely on Lucene for search functionality.
Look Out for Open Source
The trend for open source search is no longer a dim blip on a procurement team's radar. Open source is in the main airspace and is disrupting sales for certain commercial vendors. In 2008, open source was not a factor. In the span of nearly 4 years, community-supported software has gained traction. Remember: The fact that IBM depends on open source search in its most sophisticated product is a digital landmark in my opinion.
The third point is that the catchphrases in use today invoke hard-to-explain concepts such as customer service, analytics, and business intelligence. What is interesting about some of the 2012 catchphrases is that they have no connotation for search and retrieval. For example, Attivio, Inc., a relative newcomer to the search sector, reports the following:
Responding to increasing demand for an advanced unified information access platform that complements and extends existing BI and big data technologies, providing access to diverse information, Attivio announced its Active Intelligence Engine (AIE) 3.0. AIE is the industry's most powerful UIA platform for rethinking business challenges, reframing approaches and solving problems previously thought to be impossible. Attivio's Active Intelligence Engine seamlessly unifies disparate content and data, so companies across a wide range of industries can address their most daunting "imagine-if" business challenges.
And the slogan? "Unified information access." In fact, the Attivio website employs multiple mottos, including "The right information, whatever the source" and "Insight that matters."
I think the shift to apps and the broader consumerization of enterprise software underscores the disconnect between slogans and users. I am no longer surprised that Apple's revenue is now larger than that of Google and Microsoft combined. Apple is already in the enterprise, delivering findability via touch-centric applications, most of which do the heavy lifting for the user.
By removing thought from the information access process, enterprise consumers of information no longer worry about the integrity of the data or the validity of the method used to generate a snazzy visualization of data. Search is marginalized. From a must-have function, search has become another system function at best and irrelevant at worst.
Offering Search Training
An Outsell, Inc. expert made an observation that underscores just how out of step vendors and experts have become in reconciling what users want with what is generally available. In "Helping Enterprise Searchers Succeed," we find this assertion:
It is not enough to simply make a search engine interface accessible on the workstation. Every worker must be shown how to search for accurate information, authoritative information, and complete information, and be made aware of the ways to ingest and evaluate what they are finding.... Search experts are a professionally trained class of workers who can fill the role of trainers, particularly if they have subject matter expertise in the field where search is being deployed. The risks to any enterprise of short-changing workers by not allowing them to fully exploit and understand results produced from search are long-term, but serious.
As with most of the search slogans, an argument that "search experts" will train users is a good idea, but it's closer to a 19th-century historical novel's plot than the reality of today's findability.
Search slogans underscore the difficulty some vendors have in explaining the value proposition for their systems. Layering metaphors and buzzwords on top of keyword retrieval does not solve the problems that the search vendors create when users cannot pinpoint needed information. Access is more important than jargon.
Here are three examples. First, what is more compelling, the capability of a search system to parse a user's natural language query or providing an iPad app that makes information available with a finger tap?
Second, why has the Google Search Appliance (GSA) been marginalized? Since the product's debut in 2002, the company has placed more than 60,000 GSAs, according to conference gossip. At the same time, Google offers a range of cloud-based search services, including Google Custom Search and Google Site Search. With its massive brand presence and even larger share of the search market, the Google search solution should be a slam dunk. Although successful, the GSA is not the dominant product in the marketplace. Engineered to be simple and quick to install, the GSAdelivers a Google-like experience to the enterpriser. My view is that the GSA was engineered for what was needed a decade ago.
Third, the bewildering business climate now struggles with new types of information such as Facebook brand pages with news and Twitter messages that allow information to propagate in unanticipated ways. The phrase Big Data does not match up with the computationally constricted methods of traditional keyword retrieval. Something more is needed, but that "more" is not delivered by firms that focus on indexing the words in a document. Analytic methods and sophisticated numerical recipes within core enterprise workflows, such as a manufacturing system, real-time content flows within an organizations, and external unstructured information, make most enterprise search solutions into an irritant to those who have to find a relevant item or data or information.
In my opinion, slogans are unable to connect search technology to the problems of findability that most professionals face. Jingoism is not a solution, by jingo!
Stephen E. Arnold is a consultant. His most recent monograph is The New Landscape of Enterprise Search: A Critical Review of the Market and Search Systems, which is available from www.pandia.com. Send your comments about this column to email@example.com.
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|Title Annotation:||REDEFINING SEARCH|
|Author:||Arnold, Stephen E.|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2012|
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