November 06, 2014

What features do your users really want? Use "Dev Dollars"!

During one of the presentations at yesterday's Enterprise Search and Discovery the discussion shifted to figuring out what features and capabilities end users need from their search platform. One person suggested asking stakeholders and making a list; then implementing what you can. 

That’s what we start with but we go beyond. When we're out helping a client gather user requirements for a search selection or implementation, we meet with stakeholders from each functional area of the organization. During each interview, we ask people to tell us what internet search sites they use for personal browsing, and what capabilities of those sites they like best. As they name the desired features, we write them on a white board.

We do this with representatives from every department, whether marketing, IT, support, documentation, sales, finance, shipping or others - really every group that will use the platform for a substantial part of their days. 

Once we have the list, we ask for a little more help. We give each of them $100 "Dev Dollars" to 'buy' features, and ask them to spend whatever portion they want to pay for each feature - but all they have is $100 DD.

Now the dynamics in the group get interesting. The 'usual' features get the big allotment; the outliers get a pittance if anything. Typically, the top two or three features requested get between 40DD and 50DD; and that quickly trails off. 

I know - it sounds odd. These Dev Dollars have no true value - but people give a great deal of thought to assigning relative value to a list of capabilities - and it give you a feature list with real priorities.

How do you discover what users really want? Let me hear from you!

 

 

November 05, 2014

Search Owner's Dilemma

In my session today at Enterprise Search & Discovery, I finished up with a rendition of the old rhyme called "The Engineer's Dilemma", updated for the folks who manage enterprise search in large organizations. Folks seemed to like it, so I'll share it here for those who were unable to be at the conference. I call it "The Search Manger's Dilemma"

It's not my job to pick our search
The call's not up to me.
It's not my place to say how much
The cost of search should be.
It's not my place to tune the thing, not even do it well,
But let the damn thing miss a page And see who catches hell!

Enjoy!

September 18, 2014

Lucidworks ships Fusion 1.0 - Pretty exciting next gen platform.

OK, I've known about this coming for a while, just didn't know when until this afternoon - so I stayed up late to get the download started after midnight.

Fusion is more than an updated release of Lucidworks Search. It is Solr based, but it's a re-write from top to bottom. And it's not a bare bones search API only a developer can love. Connectors? Check. Security? Check. Analytics? Check. Entity extraction? Check. All included. 

But what it adds is where the real capabilities and contributions are. Machine learning? Check. Admin console? Check. Machine learning? Check. Log analytics? Check. A document pre-processing pipeline? Check. Deep signal processing (think 'automated context processing')? Check. 

Even if you think these new unique capabilities are not your style, then you can buy Solr support and still get licenses for connectors, entity extraction, and a handful of other formerly 'premium' products. Want it all? License the full product at a per-node price I always thought was underpriced. I'm sure you'll be hearing alot more in the coming days and weeks, but go - download - try - and see what it does for your sites. Your developers will love it, your business owners will love it, your users will love it, and I bet even your CFO will love it.  

Full disclosure: I am a former employee of Lucidworks; but I'd be just as excited even if I were not. Go download it for sure and try it on your content. But be sure to check out the  'search as killer app' video on Lucid's home page www.lucidworks.com

s/ Miles

 

 

September 09, 2014

Sometimes you're just wrong! (Maybe).

OK, this one falls into the 'eat your own words' category, so I have to come clean. Well, partly clean. Let me explain.

I was out of town last week, but just before I left I wrote an article asserting that Elasticsearch really isn't 'enterprise' search. The article drew alot of attention and comments from both sides of the argument. I have to say I still think that's the case, but an announcement by Microsoft seems to differ, and end up a net positive for Elasticsearch. Microsoft tells us that Elasticsearch is the platform under the covers of Microsoft's Azure search offering. It looks like you have a couple of options - as long as you're on Azure:

a) You can download and use the open source Elasticsearch platform available on GitHub; or

b) Use Microsoft's managed service 'Facetflow Elasticsearch' which incorporates (some of) the open source code in various places.

Microsoft calls this "a fully-managed real-time search and analytics service" while, according to ZDNet, it is for 'web and mobile application developers looking to incorporate full-text search into their applications'. 

Either way, it's certainly yet another step forward for Elasticsearch, and is a big step forward in visibility for the company. It's not clear what kind of revenue they will receive from the deal - Microsoft being relatively famous for being quite frugal. And after all, smart search folks like Kevin Green of Spantree Technology Group talk about its strengths and liabilities, saying it *is* fast ('wicked fast'); fault-tolerant; distributed and more. But it is not a crawler; a machine learner; a user-facing front end, and it is not secure. 

So I'll agree a partial 'mea culpa' is in order; adding capabilities to an open source project can make it more enterprise ready. But I think the jury may still be out on the rest of my piece. Stay tuned!

August 25, 2014

Is Elasticsearch really enterprise search?

Not too long ago, Gartner released it's the 2014 Magic Quadrant which I’ve written about here and which has generated a lively discussion on the Enterprise Search Engine Professionals group over on LinkedIn.

Much of the discussions I’ve seen about this year's MQ deals with the omission of several platforms that most people think of as 'enterprise search’. Consider that MQ alumni Endeca, Exalead, Vivisimo, Microsoft FAST, and others don’t even appear this year. Over the last few years larger companies acquired most of these players, but in the MQ it's as if they simply ceased to exist.

The name I've heard mentioned besides these previous MQ alumni is Elasticsearch, a relatively new start-up. Elasticsearch, based on Apache Lucene, recently had a huge round of investment by some A-List VCs. What's the deal, Gartner?

Before I share my opinion, I have to reiterate that, until recently, I was an employee of Lucidworks, which many people see as a competitor to Elasticsearch. I believe my opinions are valid here, and I believe I’m known for being vendor-neutral. I think the best search platform for a given environment is a function of the platform and the environment – what data source, security, management and budget apply for any given company or department. “Search engine mismatch’ is a real problem and we’ve written about it for years.

Given that caveat, I believe I’m accurately describing the situation, and I encourage you to leave a comment if you think I've lost my objectivity!

OK, here goes. I don't believe Elasticsearch is in the enterprise search space. For that reason, if for no other, it doesn’t belong on the Gartner Magic Quadrant for search.

You heard it here. It's not that I don't think Elasticsearch isn’t a powerful, cool, and valuable tool. It is all that, and more. As I mentioned, it’s based on Apache Lucene, a fantastic embedded search tool. In fact, it's the same tool Solr (and therefore Lucidworks' commercial products) are based on.  But Lucene by itself is a tool more than a solution for enterprise search.

Let me start by addressing what I think Elasticsearch is great for: search-enabled data visualization. The first time I attended an Elasticsearch meet-up, they were showing the product in conjunction with two other open source projects: Logstash and Kibana. The total effect was great and made for a fantastic demo! I was fully and completely impressed, and saw the value immediately - search driving a visualization tool that was engaging, interactive, and exciting! 

Since then, Elasticsearch has apparently hired the guys who created those two respective open source projects, and has now morphed into a log analytics company - more like Splunk with great presentation capability, and less like traditional enterprise search. Their product is ELK - Elasticsearch Logstash Kibana. You can download all of these from GitHub, by the way.

(Lucidworks has also seen the value of Kibana to enterprise search, and has released their own version of Logstash and Kibana integrated with Solr called SiLK (Solr-Integrated Logstash and Kibana).

Now let me tell you why I do not think of Elasticsearch as an enterprise search solution. First, in my time at Lucid, I'm not aware of any enterprise opportunities that Lucidworks lost to ELK. I could be wrong, and maybe the Elastic guys know of many deals we never saw at Lucid. But with no crawler and other components I consider ‘required’ as part of an enterprise search product, I'm not sure they're interested - yet, at least.

Next, check the title of their home page: "Open Source Distributed Real Time Search". Doesn't scream 'Google Search Appliance replacement', does it? Read Elasticsearch founder Shay Banon on the GSA.

Finally, Wired Magazine has an even more interesting quote: Shay Banon on SharePoint. “We're not doing enterprise search in the traditional sense. We're not going to index SharePoint documents”.

Now, with the growth and the money Elasticsearch has, they may change their tune. But with over $100M in venture capital now, I think their investors are valuing Elasticsearch as a Splunk competitor, and perhaps a NoSQL search product for Hadoop - not a traditional enterprise search engine. 

So the real question is: which space are you in? Enterprise Search with SharePoint and other legacy data sources? Web content and file shares you need a crawler for? Is LDAP or Active Directory security important to you? Well - I won't say 'no way' - but I'd want to see it before I buy.

Do you use Elasticsearch for your enterprise search? Let me hear from you!