November 25, 2014

The Search Whisperer

A few years ago, Toyota ran an ad in the San Francisco Bay Area featuring the then recently retired Steve Young of 49ers fame. In the advert, he is chatting with a woman at a party and the woman asks, "What do you do for a living Steve?" Rather than answer directly, Young replies with a question: "Do you follow sports? Football?” When the woman answers that she doesn't, Young's (truthful) reply? "I'm a lawyer."

I'm not a lawyer, so when people ask me what I do, I have trouble answering in a precise way. Usually I’ll say “I help companies get the right search platform for their requirements” or "I help companies tune their search platform”. Both are true, but people outside of the narrow field either have no idea what I do, or they think I do SEO for pubic web sites. I also add "I fly small airplanes" and that's usually where the conversation goes. 

It's tough being a "search whisperer", because even people with an enterprise search problem often don't realize that anyone but the vendor can help fix it. Even worse, they don't know that you can avoid problems in the first place by picking a platform that meets the need, then managing it relentlessly. 

Now that the commercial market is down to a handful of players, it may get easier because most of the newer platforms don’t have the rich feature sets that seemed so promising in the old expensive brands. It’s easier to justify a bare bones platform and hope then to buy yet another expensive platform that may or may not work as expected.

Do you have an obsolete platform (FAST ESP, Verity, Vivisimo, Endeca,...) and want to make it work better? Are you going to go with a powerful search API with no real management capabilities? Do you want to future-proof your search? That’s what I do. 

 

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!