50 posts categorized "Google Search Appliance"

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? 

 

 

May 31, 2016

The Findwise Enterprise Search and Findability Survey 2016 is open for business

Would you find it helpful to benchmark your Enterprise Search operations against hundreds of corporations, organizations and government agencies worldwide? Before you answer, would you find that information useful enough that you’re spend a few minutes answering a survey about your enterprise search practices? It seems like a pretty good deal to me to have real-world data from people just like yourself worldwide.

This survey, the results of which are useful, insightful, and actionable for search managers everywhere, provides the insight into many of the critical areas of search.

Findwise, the Swedish company with offices there and in Denmark, Norway Poland, Norway and London, is gathering data now for the 2016 version of their annual Enterprise Search and Findability Survey at http://bit.ly/1sY9qiE.

What sorts of things will you learn?

Past surveys give insight into the difference between companies will happy search users versus those whose employees prefer to avoid using internal search. One particularly interesting finding last year was that there are three levels of ‘search maturity’, identifiable by how search is implemented across content.

The least mature search organizations, roughly 25% of respondents, have search for specific repositories (siloes), but they generally treat search as ‘fire and forget’, and once installed, there is no ongoing oversight.

More mature search organizations that represent about 60% of respondents, have one search for all silos; but maintaining and improving search technology has very little staff attention.

The remaining 15% of organizations answering the survey invest in search technology and staff, and continuously attempt to improve search and findability. These organizations often have multiple search instances tailored for specific users and repositories.

One of my favorite findings a few years back was that a majority of enterprises have “one or less” full time staff responsible for search; and yet a similar majority of employees reported that search just didn’t work. The good news? Subsequent surveys have shown that staffing search with as few as 2 FTEs improves overall search satisfactions; and 3 FTEs seem to strongly improve overall satisfaction. And even more good news: Over the years, the trend in enterprise search shows that more and more organizations are taking search and findability seriously.

You can participate in the 2016 Findwise Enterprise Search and Findability Survey in just 10 or 15 minutes and you’ll be among the first to know what this year brings. Again, you’ll find the 2016 survey at http://bit.ly/1sY9qiE.

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 21, 2014

More on the Gartner MQ: Fact or fiction?

There is a lively discussion going on over in the LinkedIn ‘Enterprise Search Engine Professionals’ group about the recent Gartner Magic Quadrant report on Enterprise Search. Whit Andrews, a Gartner Research VP, has replied that the Gartner MQ is not a 'pay to play'. I confess guilt to have been the one who brought the topic up in these threads, at least, and I certainly thank Whit for clarifying the misunderstanding directly.

That said, two of my colleagues who are true search experts have raised some questions I thought should be addressed.

Charlie Hull of UK-based Flax says he's “unconvinced of the value of the MQ to anyone wanting a comprehensive … view of the options available in the search market'. And Otis Gospodnetić of New York-based Sematext asks "why (would) anyone bother with Gartner's reports. We all know they don't necessarily match the reality". I want to try to address those two very good points.

First, I'm not sure Gartner claims to be a comprehensive overview of the search market. Perhaps there are more thorough lists- my friends and colleagues Avi Rappoport and Steve Arnold both have more complete coverage. Avi, now at Search Technologies, still maintains   

www.searchtools.com with a list that is as much a history of search as a list of vendors. And Steve Arnold has a great deal of free content on his site as well as high quality technology overviews by subscription. Find links to both at arnoldit.com.

Nonetheless, Gartner does have published criterion, and being a paid subscriber is not one of them. His fellow Gartner analyst French Caldwell calls that out on his blog. By the way, I have first-hand experience that Gartner is willing to cut some slack to companies that don't quite meet all of their guidelines for inclusion, and I think that adds credence to the claim that everything.

A more interesting question is one that Otis raises: “why would anyone bother with Gartner's reports”?

To answer that, let me paraphrase a well-known quote from the early days of computers: "No one ever got fired for following Gartner's advice". They are well known for having good if not perfect advice - and I'd suspect that in the fine print, Gartner even acknowledges the fallibility of their recommendations. And all of us know that in real life, you can't select software as complex as an enterprise search platform without a proof of concept in your environment and on your content.

The industry is full of examples where the *best* technology loses pretty consistently to 'pretty good' stuff backed by a major firm/analyst/expert. Otis, I know you're an expert, and I'd take what you say as gospel. A VP at a big corporation who is not familiar with search (or his company's detailed search requirements) may not do so. And any one on that VP's staff who picks a platform based solely on what someone like you or I say probably faces some amount of career risk. That said, I think I speak for Otis and Charlie and others when I say I am glad that a number of folks have listened to our advice and are still fully employed!]

So - in summary, I think we're all right. Whit Andrews and Gartner provide advice that large organizations trust because of the overall methodology of their evaluation. Everyone does know it's not infallible, so a smart company will use the 'trust but verify' approach. And they continue to trust you and I, but more so when Gartner or Forrester or one of the large national consulting companies conforms our recommendation. And of not, we have to provide a compelling reason why something else is better for them. And the longer we're successful with out clients, the more credible we become.

 

 

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!

 

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 18, 2012

Last call for submiting papers to ESS NY

This Friday, December 21, is the last day for submitting papers and workshops to ESS in NY in May 21-22. See the information site at the Enterprise Search Summit Call for Speakers page.

If you work with enterprise search technologies (or supporting technologies), chances are the things you've learned would be valuable to other folks. If you have an in-depth topic, write it up as a 3 hour workshop; if you have a success story, or lessons learned you can share, submit a talk for a 30-45 minute session.

I have to say, this conference has enjoyed a multi-year run in terms of quality of talks and excellent Spring weather.. see you in May?

 

 

August 21, 2012

Mind the gap

A few weeks ago, a former client asked me about the 'lay of the land' in enterprise search - which companies were the one to be considered for evaluation. It's something I'm frequently asked, and one big reason why I strive to stay current with all of the leading commercial and open source vendors in the market.

As I pulled together the list, it occurred to me that recent consolidation has led to an odd situation: there is no longer a 'mid-market' in enterprise search.

Under $25,000(US), there are a number of options from free and low-cost open source (SearchBlox and my employer LucidWorks come to mind). 

Google has discontinued its low cost (blue) search appliance, and raised the cost of its regular (yellow) one to apparently be well above $25K.

We also have the old-school major commercial vendors - like FAST (now Microsoft SharePoint Search); Autonomy (now HP); Endeca (now Oracle), and finally Vivisimo (now IBM). Trend or not, these enterprise search products command high initial outlay, often significant implementation costs, and high ongoing 'support' once you've rolled it out. Looks like the mid-market is gone.

So now the question is: What do you get for the difference in price? I'd suggest not much in the way of capability; nothing in terms of scalability; and very very little in the way of flexibility.  I guess it's 'caveat emptor' - buyer beware!

What about some products/projects I haven't mentioned? Well, the focus of my article here is on enterprise search. Great candidates like Coveo are 'windows only' which disqualifies them from my list. I suppose you could consider the GSA as not enterprise ready, but I think appliances make the OS issue irrelevant. I've also omitted mentioning other projects because they have not yet shipped a 'Version 1.0' release - that's testware, no matter who it's from. And I'm sure there are open source projects where a single person is making all the calls - I don't consider that enterprise ready either.

I’ll be looking for the day when the big guys start value pricing their software licenses and help bring the market into line with today’s reality.

If you think I've unfairly represented the market, let me know - I'm not shy about posting comments that differ with my viewpoint.

 

s/Miles

 

July 06, 2012

Search appliance 'blues'

Over the US Independence day holiday many of us learned that Google is dropping its entry-level search GsaBlue box, the Google Mini. This comes as part of 'summer cleaning', the Mini being dropped with a number of other services and products that are just not hot enough to support the effort. (The one I'll really miss? iGoogle.) Google hasn't provided much information on how successful the GSA 'Blue' has been, but with a price point between $3K US and $10K US I imagine they moved a bunch of them to customers with simple search requirements. 

I think it may have Steve Arnold who said recently that the Google pubic web search and its advertising sales accounting for something like 96% of the company's revenue, so I don't think too many Googlers are upset about losing a small slice of a small slice of revenue. Heck, Mini proficts probably don't even pay the fuel bills for a weekend flight to Europe for the Google 767.

The impact? Well, back then the Mini was new and it was big news. Heck, the bigger  models were even better at not too much more money. Still, enterprise search was an expensive proposition then. Lucene was pretty new and quite rough around the edges; FAST, Exalead and Endeca were selling for upwards of $250K, and needed at least that amount of money to actually get them to work. Google Site Search was there; but not many other enterprise search products were around for that price.

A funny thing happened in the new century. Now enterprise customers are more demanding about search. The GSA - even the larger models - is generally well-received at first. At least as long as the 'Powered by Google' icon is visible. We had one customer tell us that just licensing the Google icon would solve most of his user complaints. And Verity's Andy Feit proved it statistically a year or two later. (Have a look at our post last year 'It's not Google unless it says it's Google'.)

But over time, even when content and user query activity remains about the same, people become increasingly frustrated using the GSA. But will Google abandon the color yellow too? Steve Arnold has wondered on LinkedIn whether the larger Google appliances are going to see the same fate soon. 

The problem isn't that it's an appliance. It's the closed system that people are turning away from. In the enterprise, you can't use the cool techniques that Google uses to generate psychic results on the internet. In the enterprise, managers know what content to boost; Metadata? Fielded search? Boost based on content? Not in the blue (or yellow) world. 

Still, I think Google and the GSA provide pretty darned good value for a certain part of the market. If your data is pretty decent; if you're serving highly interliked web and PDF content; if your data needs are not too demanding - GSA may be the solution you want. But before you spend money blindly, do what you do with any product you buy - verify it works in your environment. And as with any enterprise search platform, allocate a budget to run it properly after roll-out.

Yes, search has changed. Really good low-cost options are available. Where? Well, in addition to Google's site search offerings, there's Lucid Imagination's cloud and on-premises solutions; and some other darned good offerings based on open source: Flax - SearchBlox - and more.

What do you think? Is the loss of the Mini giving you the blues? 

 /s/Miles

(With thanks to Karan!)

March 28, 2012

The importance of context in enterprise search

For years we have talked about the important of context when it comes to enterprise search. we blogged about it as long ago as 2007 and we stressed that the context of the user, the content, and the query all need to be considered between the time the user click 'Search' and the search platform gets the extended query. As an example, we've used things like Google's special treatment of 12-digit numbers that match the algorithm for FedEx tracking numbers. 

Now it appears that Google has started plans to expand their use of context as published in the Wall Street Journal and called out in blog postings from Avalon's Joe Hilger and Mashable's Lance Ulanoff. Google's Amit Singhal spoke of the shift from keywords to meaning, a change not only at Google but, over time, in the enterprise search platforms most companies use internally every day.

Extended_search_processing_flowAs we talk about in a recent webinar 'Secrets your Search Vendor Won't Tell You', search platform vendors have always trailed user requirements; sometimes you just need to write your own custom code to create a search experience users are happy with. You often need to add your own pre-search processing code to analyze the user query and create an expanded query using the vendor-specific search operators; make the most of standard platform capabilities; and post-process the search result list in order to give yours a great, meaningful, helpful set of results and actions.

At ESS New York in May, we're doing a pre-conference workshop that will take a deep dive into this process. We'll talk about how you can do this extended processing in several popular search platforms, and will include some representative examples of how you can implement this type of contextual enhancement for several popular search platforms. If you're going to be in New York anyway, come to the workshop!

s/Miles