90 posts categorized "Business"

November 16, 2016

What features do your search users really want?

What features and capabilities do corporate end-users need from their search platform? Here's a radical concept: ask stakeholders what they want- and what they need - and making a list. No surprise: you'll have too much to do.

Try this: meet with stakeholders from each functional area of the organization. During each interview, ask people to tell you what internet search sites they use for personal browsing, and what capabilities of those sites they like best. As they name the desired features, write them on a white board.

Repeat 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 you have the list, ask for a little more help. Tell your users they each have $100 "Dev Dollars" to invest in new 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 get interesting. The really important features get the big bucks; 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 gives you a feature list with real priorities.

How do you discover what users really want? 

 

 

January 20, 2015

Your enterprise search is like your teenager

During a seminar a while back, I made this spontaneous claim. Recently, I made the comment again, and decided to back up my claim - which I’ll do here.

No, really – it’s true. Consider:

You can give your search platform detailed instructions, but it may or may not do things the way you meant:

Modern search platforms provide a console where you, as the one responsible for search, can enter all of the information needed to index content and serve up results. You tell it what repositories to index; what security applies to the various repositories; and how you want the results to look.  But did it? Does it give you a full report of what it did, what it was unable to do, and why?

You really have no idea what it’s doing – especially on weekends:

 Search platforms are notorious for the lack of operational information they provide.

Does your platform give you a useful report of what content was indexed successfully, and which were not – and why? And some platforms stop indexing files when they reach a certain size: do you know what content was not completely indexed?

When it does tell you, sometimes the information is incomplete: 

Your crawler tells you there were a bunch of ‘404’ errors because of a bad or missing URL; but will it tell you which page(s) had the bad link? Chances are it does not. 

They can be moody, and malfunction without any notice:

You schedule a full update of you index every weekend, and it has always worked flawlessly – as far as you know. Then, usually on a 3-day weekend, it fails. Why? See above.

When you talk to others who have search, theirs always sounds much better than yours:

As a conscientious search manager, you read about search, you attend webinars and conferences, and you always want to learn more. But you wonder why other search mangers seem to describe their platform in glowing terms, and never seem to have any of the behavioral issues you live with every day. It kind of makes you wonder what you’re doing wrong with yours.

It costs more to maintain than you thought and it always needs updates:

When you first got the platform you knew there we ongoing expenses you’d have to budget – support, training, updates, consulting. But just like your kid who needs books, a computer, soccer coaching, and tuition, it’s always more than you budgeted. Sometimes way more!

You can buy insurance, but it never seems to cover what you really need:

Bear with me here: you get insurance for your kids in case they get sick or cause an accident, and you buy support and maintenance for your search platform.  But in the same way that you end up surprised that orthodontics are not fully covered, you may find out that help tuning the search platform, or making it work better, isn’t covered by the plan you purchased – in fact, it wasn’t even offered. QED.

It speaks a different vocabulary:

You want to talk with your kid and understand what’s going on; you certainly don’t want to look uncool. But like your kid, your search platform has a vocabulary that only barely makes sense to you. You know rows and columns, and thought you understood ‘fields’; but the search platform uses words you know but that don’t seem to be the same definition you’ve known from databases or CMS systems.

It's hard for one person to manage, especially when it's new:

Many surveys show that most companies have one (or less) full-time staff responsible for running the search engine – while the same companies claim search is ‘critical’ to their mission.  Search is hard to run, especially in the first few years when everything needs attention. You can always get outside help – not unlike day care and babysitters – but it just seems so much better if you could have a team to help manage and maintain search to make it behave better.

How it behaves reflects on you:

You’re the search manager and you’ve got the job to make search work “just like Google”.  You spent more than $250K to get this search engine, and the fact that it just doesn’t work well reflects badly on you and your career. You may be worried about a divorce.

It doesn’t behave like the last one:

People tend to be nostalgic, as are many search managers I know. They learned how to take care of the previous one, but this new one – well, it’s NOTHING like the earlier one. You need to learn its habits and behaviors, and often adjust your behavior to insure peace at work.

You know if it messes up badly late at night, even on a weekend or a holiday, you’ll hear about it:

If customers or employees around the world use your search platform, there is no ‘down time’: when it’s having an issue, you’ll hear about it, and will be expected to solve the issue – NOW. You may even have IT staff monitoring the platform; but when it breaks in some odd and unanticipated way, you get the call. (And when does search ever fail in an expected way?)

 You may be legally responsible if it messes up:

Depending on what your search application is used for, you may find yourself legally responsible for a problem. Fortunately, the chances of you personally being at fault are slim, but if your company takes a hit for a problem that you hadn’t anticipated, you may have some ‘career risk’ of your own. Was secure content about the upcoming merger accidentally made public? Was content to be served only to your Swiss employees when they search from Switzerland exposed outside of the country? And you can’t even buy liability insurance for that kind of error.

When it’s good, you rarely hear about it; when it's bad, you’ll hear about it:

Seriously, how many of you have gotten a call from your CIO to tell you what a great experience he or she had on the new search platform? Do people want to take you to lunch because search works so well? If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these, I’d like to hear from you!

In my experience, people only go out of their way to give feedback on search when it’s not working well. It’s not “like Google”. Even though Google has hundreds or people and ‘bots’ examining every search query to try to make the result better, and you have only yourself and an IT guy.

You’ll hear. 

The work of managing it is never done:

The wonderful southern writer Ferrol Sams wrote :

“He's a good boy… I just can't think of enough things to tell him not to do.” Sound like your search platform? It will misbehave (or fail outright) in ways you never considered, and your search vendor will tell you “We’ve never seen a problem like that before”. Who has to get it fixed? You have to ask?

Once it moves away, you sometimes feel nostalgic:

Either you toss it out, or a major upgrade from your vendor comes alone and the old search platform gets replaced. Soon, you’re wishing for the “Good old days” when you knew how cute and quirky the old one was, and you find yourself feeling nostalgic for it and wishing that it didn’t have to move out.

Do you agree with my premise? What  have I missed?

August 05, 2014

The unspoken "search user contract"

Search usability is a major difference between search that works and search that sucks. If you want a free one-hour usability consultation, let me know.

I recently had lunch with my long time friend and associate Avi Rappoport from Search Technologies. We had a great time exchanging stories about some of the search problems our clients have. She mentioned one customer who she was explaining what best practices to follow when laying out a result list. That brought to mind what I've called the search user contract, which users tacitly expect when they use your search on all of your sites, internally and externally.

If you are responsible for an instance of search running inside a firewall, even if it's outward facing, you have a problem your predecessors of 15 to 20 years ago* didn't have. Back then, most users didn't have experience with search except the one you provided - so they didn't have expectations of what it could be like.

Fast forward to 2014. In addition to your intranet search, virtually everyone in your organization knows, uses, and often loves Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, eBay and others. They know what really great search looks like. They expect you to suggest searches (or even products) on the fly! Search today knows misspelled words and what other products you might like.

But most importantly, almost all of these sites follow the same unspoken user contract:

  • On the result list, the search box goes at the top, either across a wide swath of the browser window, or in a smaller box on the left hand side, near the top.
  • There is more than one search box on the results page.
  • Search results, numbered or not, show a page title and a meaningful summary of the document. Sometimes the summary is just a snippet. Words that cause the document to be returned are sometimes bolded in the summary.
  • Suggestions for the words and phrases you type show up just below the search box (or up in the URL field)
  • Facets, when available, go along the left hand side and/or across the top, just under the search box. Occasionally they can be on the right of the result list.
  • When facets are displayed own the left or right side of the screen, the numbers next to each facet indicate how many results show when you click that facet.
  • Best bets, boosted results, or promoted results show up at the top of the result list.
  • Advertisements or special announcements appear on the right side of the result list.
  • Links to the 'next’ or ‘previous' results page appear at the bottom and possibly at the top of the results.

Now it's time to look your web sites - public facing as well as behind your firewall. Things we often see include:

  • Spelling suggestions in small, dark font very close to the site background color, at the left edge of the content, just above facets. Users don't expect to look there for suggestions, and even if they do look, make the color stand out so users see it** [Don't make the user think]
  • An extra search form on the page; one at the top as 'part of our standard header block'; and one right above the result list to enable drill down. The results you see will different depending on which field to type in. [The visitor is confused: which search button should be pressed to do a 'drill down' search. Again, don't make the user think]
  • Tabs for drilling into different content areas seem to be facets; but some of the tabs ('News") have no results. [Facets should only display if, by clicking on a facet, the user can see more content]
  • As I said at the top, we’ve found poor search user experience is a major reason employees and site visitors report that ‘search sucks’. One of the standard engagements we do is a Search Audit, which includes search usability in addition to a review of user requirement and expectations.  If you want a free consult on your usability, let me know.

 

/s/Miles

 

*Yes, Virginia, there was enterprise search 20 or more years ago. Virtually none of those names still exist, but their technology is still touching you every day. Fulcrum, Verity, Excalibur and others were solving problems for corporations and government agencies; and of course Yahoo was founded in 1994.

**True story, with names omitted to protect the innocent. On a site where I was asked to deliver a search quality audit, ‘spelling suggestions’ was a top requested feature. They actually had spell suggestions, in grey letters in a dark black field with a dark green background, far to the left of the browser window. No one noticed them. You know you are; you’re welcome!

 

July 29, 2014

Big data: Salvation for enterprise search?

Or just another data source?

With all the acquisitions we've seen in enterprise search in the last several years, it's no wonder that the field looks boring to the casual observer. Most companies have gone through two or more complex, costly search implementations to a new search platform, users still complain, and in some quarters, there seems to be 'quality of search fatigue'. I acknowledge I'm biased, but I think enterprise search implemented and managed properly provides incredible value to corporations, their employees, and their customers/consumers. That said, a lot of companies seem to treat search as 'fire and forget', and after it's installed, it never gets the resources to get off the ground in a quality way.

It's no surprise then that the recent hype bubble in 'Big Data' has the attention of enterprise search companies as they see a way to convince an entirely new group of technologists that search is the way. 

It's certainly true that Hadoop's beginning was related to search - as a repository for web crawler Nutch in preparation for highly scalable indexing in Lucene/Solr no doubt. Hadoop and its zoo* of related tools certainly are designed for nerds. At best, it's a framework that sits on top of your physical disks; worst case it's a file system that does support authentication but not really security (in the LDAP/AFD sense). And it's a great tool to write 'jobs' to manipulate content in interesting ways to a data scientist. How is your Java? Python? Clojure? Better brush up.

The enterprise search vendors of the world certainly see the tremendous interest in Hadoop and 'big data' as a great opportunity to grow their business. And for the right use cases, most enterprise search platforms can address the problem. But remember that, to enterprise search, the content you store in Hadoop is simply content in a different repository: a new data source on the menu.

But remember, big data apps come with all the same challenges enterprise search has faced for years plus a few more. Users - even if data scientists and researchers - think web-based Google is search; and even though - as a group - this demographic may be more intelligent than your average search users, they still expect your search to 'just know". If you think babysitting your existing enterprise search solution is touch, wait until you see what billions of documents does for you.

And speaking of billions of records - how long does your current search take to index your current content? How long does it take to do a full index of your current content? Now extrapolate: how long will it take to index a few billion records? (Note: some vendors can provide a much faster 'pipe' for indexing massive content from Hadoop. Lucidworks and Cloudera are two of the companies I am familiar with; there may be others)

A failure in search? Well, it depends what you want. If you are going to treat Hadoop as a 'Ha-Dump' with all of your log files, all of your customer transactional data, hundreds of Twitter feeds for ever and ever, and add your existing enterprise data, you're going to have some time on your hands while the data gets indexed.

On the other hand, if you're smart about where your data goes, break it into 'data lakes' of related content, and use the right tool for each type of data, you won't be using your enterprise search platform for use cases better served with analytics tools that are part of the Apache Zoo; and you’ll still be doing pretty well. And in that universe, Hadoop is just another data source for search - and not the slow pipe through which all of your data has to flow.

Do you agree?

 

*If you get the joke, chances are you know a bit about the Apache project and open source software. If not, you may want to hold off and research before you download your first Hadoop VM.   

 

July 22, 2014

The role of professional services in software companies

I just saw a great piece on LinkedIn written by venture investor Mark Suster (@msuster) of Upfront Ventures. His piece is about the importance of professional services to building a VC backed company/product. I can add no more to his take (bolded text is on me):

Have an in-house professional services team that implements your software. It will bring down your overall margins but will produce profitable revenue. Most importantly in ensures long-term success. I wrote about The Importance of Professional Services here. I know, I know. Your favorite investor told you this was a bad idea. Trust me – you’ll thank me a few years from now if you control your own destiny and improve quality through services. If your investor worked inside of a SaaS company for years and disagrees with me then listen to them. If they’re a spreadsheet jockey then on this particular issue I promise you they are FOS. Spreadsheet quant does not equal success, properly implemented software does.

'Nuff said. I've never met Mark, but I like where he's coming from!

/s/ Miles

July 21, 2014

What does it take to qualify as 'Big Data'?

If you've been on a deserted island for a couple of decades, you may not have heard the hot new buzz phrase: Big Data. And you many not have heard of "Hadoop", the application that accidentally solved the problem of Big Data.

Hadoop was originally designed as a way for the open source Nutch crawler to store its content prior to indexing. Nutch was fine for crawling sites; but of you wanted to crawl really massive data sets – say the Internet – you needed a better way to store the content (thank goodness Doug Cutting didn’t work at a database giant or we’d all be speaking SQL now!) GigaOm has a great series on the history of Hadoop http://bit.ly/1jOMHiQ I recommend for anyone interested in how it all began and evolved,

After a number of false starts, brick walls, and subsequent successes, Hadoop is a technology that really enables what we now call ‘big data’- usually written as "Big Data". But what does this mean?  After all, there are companies with a lot of data – and there are companies with limited content size that changes rapidly every day. But which of these really have data that meets the 'Big" definition.  

Consider a company like AT&T or Xerox PARC, which licenses its technology to companies worldwide. As part of a license agreement, PARC agrees to defend its licensees if an intellectual property lawsuit ever crosses the transom. Both companies own over tens of thousands patents going back to its founding in the early 20th century. Just the digital content to support these patents and inventions must number on the tens of millions of documents, much of which is in formats no longer supported by any modern search platform. Heck, to Xerox, WordStar and Peachtext probably seem pretty recent! But about the only time they have to access their content search is when a licensee needs help defending a licensee against an IP claim. I don’t know how often that is, but I’d bet less than a dozen times a year.

Now consider a retail giant like Amazon or Best Buy. In raw size, I’d bet Amazon has hundreds of millions of items to index: books, products, videos, tunes. Maybe more. But that’s not what makes Amazon successful. I think it’s the ability to execute billions of queries every day – again, maybe more – and return damn good results in well under a second, along with recommendations for related products. Best buy actually has retail stores, so they have to keep purchase data, but also buying patterns so they know what products to stock in any given retail location.

A healthcare company like UnitedHealth must have its share of corporate intranet content. But unlike many corporations, these companies must process millions of medical transactions every week: doctor visits, prescriptions, test results, and more. They need to process these transactions, but they also must keep these transactions around for legally defined durations.

Finally, consider a global telecom company like Ericsson or Verizon. They’ve got the usual corporate intranet, I’m sure. They have financial transactions like Amazon and UHG. But they also have telecomm transaction records that must count in the billions a month: phone calls and more. And given the politics of the world, many of these transactions have to be maintained and searchable for months, if not years.

These four companies have a number of common traits with respect to search; but each has its own specific demands. Which ones count as ‘big data’ as it’s usually defined? And which just have ‘a bunch of content?

As it turns out that’s a touch question. At one point, there was a consensus that ‘big data’ required three things, known as the “Three V’s of Big Data’. This escalated to the ‘5 V’s of Big Data’, then the “7 V’s”– and I’ve even seen some define the “10 V’s of Big Data”. Wow.. and growing!

Let’s take a look at the various “V’s” that are commonly used to define ‘Big Data’.

Depending on who you ask, there are four, five, seven or more ‘requirements’ that define ‘big data. These are usually referred to as the “Vs of Big Data”, and these usually include:

Volume: The scale of your data – basically, how many ‘entries’ or ‘items’, you have. For Xerox, how many patents; for a telecom company, how many phone ‘transactions’ have there been.   

Variety: Basically this means how many different types of data you have. Amazon has mouse clicks, product views, unique titles, subscribers, financial transactions and more. For UHG and Ericsson, I’d guess the majority of their content is transactional: phone call metadata (originating and receiving phone number, duration of the call, time of day, etc.). In the enterprise, variety can also mean data format and structure. Some claim that 90% of enterprise data is unstructured, which adds yet another challenge.

Veracity: The boils down whether the data is trustworthy and meaningful. I remember a survey HP did years ago to find out what predictors were useful to know whether a person waking into a random electronics store would walk out with an HP PC. Using HP products at work or at home we the big predictors; but the fact that the most likely day was Tuesday was perhaps spurious and not very valuable.

Velocity: How fast is the data coming in and/or changing. Amazon has a pretty good idea on any given day how many transactions they can expect, and Verizon knows how much call data they can expect. But things change: A new product becomes available, or a major world event triggers many more phone calls than usual.

Viability: If you want to track trends, you need to know what data points are the most useful in predicting the future. A good friend of mine bought a router on Amazon; and Amazon reported that people who bought that router also bought.. men’s extra large jeans. Now, he tells me he did think they were nice jeans, but that signal may not have had long viability.

Value: How useful or important is the data in making a prediction, or in improving business decisions. That was easy!

Variability: This often refers to how internally consistent the data is. To a data point as an accurate predictor, that data point is ideally consistent across the wide range of content. Blood pressure, for example, is generally in a small range; and for a given patient, should be relatively consistent over time. When there is a change, UHG may want to understand the cause.

Visualization: Rows and columns of data can look pretty intimidating and it’s not easy to extract meaning from them. But as they say, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, so being able to see charts or graphs can help meaning and trends jump out at you.  I’d use Lucidworks’ SiLK product as an example of a great visualization tool for big data, but there are many others.

Validity: This seems like another way to say the data has veracity, but it may be a subtle point. If you’re recording click-thru data, or prescriptions, or intellectual property, you have to know that the data is accurate and internally consistent. In my HP anecdote above, is the fact that more people bought HP PCs on Tuesday a valid finding? Or is it simply noise? You’ll probably need a human researcher to make these kinds of calls.

Venue: With respect to Big Data, this means where the data came from and where it will be used. Content collected from automobiles and from airplanes may look similar in a lot of ways to the novice. In the same way, data from the public Internet versus data collected from a private cloud may look almost identical. But making decisions for your intranet based on data collected from Bing or Google may prove to be a risk.

Vocabulary: What describes or defines the various items of the data. Ericsson has to know which bit of data represent a phone number and which represent the time of day. Without some idea of the schema or taxonomy, we’ll be hard pressed to reach reasonable decisions from Big Data.

Volatility: This may seem like velocity above, but volatility in Big Data really means how long is the data value, how long do you need to keep it around.  Healthcare companies may need to keep the data a lot longer than

Vagueness: This final one is credited to Venkat Krishnamurthy of YarcData just last month at the Big Data Innovation Summit here in Silicon Valley.  In a way, it addresses the confidence we can have in the results suggested by the data. Are we seeing real trends, or are we witnessing a black swan?

In the application of Big Data not all of these various V’s are as valid or valuable to the casual (or serious) observer. But as in so many things, interpreting the data is to the person making the call. Big Data is only a tool: use it wisely!

Some resources I used in collection data for this article include the follow web sites and blogs:

IBM’s Big Data & Analytics Hub 

MapR's Blog: Top 10 Big Data Challenges – A Serious Look at 10 Big Data V’s 

See also Dr. Kirk Borne’s Top 10 List on Data Science Central   

Bernard Marr’s LinkedIn post on The 5 Vs Everyone Must Know 

 

February 14, 2013

A paradigm shift in enterprise search

I've been involved in enterprise search since before the 'earthquake World Series' between the Giants and the A's in 1989. While our former company became part of LucidWorks last December, we still keep abreast of the market. But being a LucidWorks employee has brought me to a new realization: commercial enterprise search is pretty much dead.

Think back a few years: FAST ESP, Autonomy IDOL (including the then-recently acquired Verity), Exalead, and Endeca were the market. Now, every one of those companies has become part of a larger business. Some of the FAST technology lives on, buried in SharePoint 2013; Autonomy has suffered as part of HP because - well, because HP isn't what it was when Bill and Dave ran it. Current management doesn't know what they have in IDOL, and the awful deal they cut was probably based on optimistic sales numbers that may or may not have existed. Exalead, the engine I hoped would take the place of FAST ESP in the search market is now part of Dassault and is rarely heard of in search. And Endeca, the gem of a search platform optimized for the lucrative eCommerce market, has become one of three or four search-related companies in the Oracle stable. 

Microsoft is finally taking advantage of the technology acquired in the FAST acquisition for SharePoint 2013, but as long as it's tied to SharePoint - even with the ability to index external content - it's not going to be an enterprise-wide distribution - or a 'big data' solution. SharePoint Hadoop? Aslongf as you bring SQL Server. Mahout? Pig? I don't think so. There are too many companies that want or need Linux for their servers rather than Windows.

Then there is Google, the ultimate closed-box solution. As long as you use the Google search button/icon, users are happy – at least at first. If you have sixty guys named Sarah? Maybe not.

So what do we have? A few good options generally from small companies that tend to focus on hosted eCommerce - SLI Systems and Dieselpoint; and there’s Coveo, a strong Windows platform offering.

Solr is the enterprise search market now. My employer, LucidWorks, was the first, and remains the primary commercial driver to the open source Apache project. What's interesting is the number of commercial products based on Solr and it's underlying platform, Lucene.

Years ago, commercial search software was the 'safe choice'. Now I think things have changed: open source search is the safe choice for companies where search is mission. Do you agree?

I'll be writing more about why I believe this to be the case over the coming weeks and months: stay tuned.

/s/Miles

 

December 03, 2012

Why LucidWorks? And Why Now?

Big news for us here at New Idea Engineering. After 16 years as an independent search technology consulting company, we've become part of LucidWorks effective December 1, 2012.

For years we've focused on both the business and technology of search.  We've provided vendor neutral consulting services to large and small organizations. We've worked with search platform companies to help tune their product capabilities and their message; we've helped companies implement enterprise search from 'the usual (vendor) suspects'. We've provided business best practices, data audits, and implementation overview for dozens of companies for most of our time as an independent company.

As you know, the market for enterprise search has changed over the last several years. Verity then Autonomy, FAST, Endeca, Exalead, ISYS, and more have been acquired by large companies with varying levels of success. With these acquisitions the products have morphed to fit into the new owners' world view, we've politely referred to shift in focus as being "distracted". Google, one of the few non-acquired engines, got into the market with a low-cost entry which has enjoyed great acceptance; but as the market changed, Google has started raising its prices for the nifty yellow box.   And while they pursue laudable offerings like phones, tables, Google Glass and self driving cars, cloud computer and simultaneously retool their ad model for the mobile world, it's fair to say that even their enterprise offerings are potentially distracted at times.

Sure, if your company has a typical use case for search, there's an engine or appliance for you.  But so many complex projects we've seen are atypical, almost by definition.  These high-end projects are no longer efficiently served by commercial sector.  Many projects have turned to Open Source offerings, but not out of cost savings as you might think, but out of a desire to have extreme control and flexibility, and not be tied down by vendor meddling and license nit-picking.

Over the same period, more and more people have realized that the need to understand and manage 'big data' is taking off. In fact, search is the interface of choice to find content in big data repositories. 

It's been about 10 years since we did our first project based on Lucene, the basis for nearly all modern open source search engines today. Since then, the capabilities of open source search have increased to the point where we honestly think Solr may be the best search platform available on the market today. 

We didn't call what we did with Lucene back then 'big data', but that's really what it was. Scalable, controllable, flexible, powerful... and open! And free for the taking - and modifying. Just add programmers.

A few years back, Lucid Imagination was started to provide that support, along with training and an easy to use interface that lets business owners - not just developers - use Solr search.  We've called them "the RedHat of Open Source Search".  Now, Lucid Imagination has become LucidWorks, and it is set to be the best way to search web, file, and database content, with extreme control, and of course with big data.

A few months ago we spoke with Lucid CEO Paul Doscher about upping our contract with them, and about where they were going, and it just made sense to us at that time to join a bigger team.

While we're committed to success at LucidWorks, we'll continue to use our blog to discuss all aspects of enterprise search – vendors, tools, technologies, events, and trends.  Unlike our days at past search companies, this one is based on an open platform so we'll be able to share a lot more as we move forward.

We hope you'll find our posts interesting, helpful, and engaging. Let us know how we're doing.

 

September 11, 2012

Are you Tracking MRR? - "Mean Reciprocal Rank" Trend Monitoring

MRR is a simple numerical technique to monitor the overall relevancy performance of search engines over time. It is based on click-throughs in the search results, where a click on the top document is scored as 100%, a click on the second document is 50%, 3rd document is 33%, etc. These numbers are collected and averaged over units of time.

The absolute value of MRR is not necessarily the important statistic because each site has different content, different classes of users, and different search technology. However, the trend of MRR over time can allow a site to spot changes quickly. It can also be used to score "A/B" testing.

There are certainly more elaborate algorithms that can be used, and MRR doesn’t account for whether a user liked the document once they opened it. But having even possibly imperfect performance data that can be trended over time is better than having nothing.

Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mean_reciprocal_rank

Walter Underwood (of Ultraseek, Netflix, MarkLogic fame) gave a presentation (in PPT/PowerPoint) of this topic a couple years ago about NetFlix's use of MRR.

December 12, 2011

New Phrase for determining Sentiment Analysis / Customer Interest

If you lookup:

fedex "Package not due for delivery"

which is one of the status messages you can get when tracking a package, you'll see a lot of postings asking about it.

FYI: It means your new toy has arrived in the city you live in, but will NOT be delivered today, because they didn't promise to get it to you until tomorrow.  Whether this is to force customers into paying for express service, or simply a logistics issue, or a mix of the two, depends on your view of companies and I won't get into that here.

However, you'll notice a lot of the postings asking about it are from folks waiting for delivery of things they're very excited to get, often some big-ticket peice of shiny electronics.  They're dying for Fedex to deliver it - they're so anxious and upset about the delay that they motivated enough to go online and search, and make ranting posts - all because their "toy" is delayed.

So we have particular emotional response, often about an upscale product, with a reasonably distinct search phrase - cool!

Yes, yes, of course you could say that the customers are mad about the percieved injustice of it, the Occupy Wall Street spin, or that sometimes the package could be really important for other reasons, which are certainly valid points.  I'm not taking sides or passing judgement - and I found discovered this today looking for a friend's overdue toy - that's not the point.  I'm just saying that I bet there's a good statistical correlation, and of course it wouldn't apply 100% of the time - which would actually be quite rare in such things.