31 posts categorized "GSA"

May 19, 2011

Content owners don't care about metadata

Or do they?

Our recent post about Booz & Company's 'men named Sarah' highlights just how important good metadata can be in order to provide a great search experience for employees and customers.

One of our customers who spoke at the recent ESS 2011 in New York provided some great insights into the problems organizations have getting employee content creators to include good metadata with their documents.

During the ESS talk, they report that content owners don't really seem motivated when asked to help improve the overall intranet site by improving document metadata. However - and this is a big one - when a sub-site owner sees poor results on their own site, they are willing to invest the time to provide really good metadata.

[A bit of background: This customer provides a way to individual site owners within the organization to add search to their 'sub site' pretty much automatically - sort of a 'search as a service' within the enterprise.]

So if you've been thinking of adding the ability to search-enable sub-sites within your organization, but solving the relevance problem is your first task, you might reconsider your priorities!

/s/Miles

May 16, 2011

Sixty guys named Sarah

We're always on the lookout for anecdotes to use at trade shows, with our customers and prospects, and of course here in the blog, so I have to report that we heard a great one last week at Enterprise Search Summit in New York.

The folks from Booz & Company, a spinoff from Booz Allen Hamilton, did a presentation on their experience comparing two well respected mainstream search products. They report that, at one point, one of the presenters was looking for a woman she knew named Sarah - but she was having trouble remembering Sarah's last name. The presenter told of searching one of the engines under evaluation and finding that most of the top 60 people returned from the search were... men. None were named 'Sue'; and apparently none were named Sarah either. The other engine returned records for a number of women named Sarah; and, as it turns out, for a few men as well.

After some frustration, they finally got to the root of the problem. It turns out that all of the Booz & Company employees have their resumes indexed as part of their profiles. Would you like to guess the name of the person who authored the original resume template? Yep - Sarah.

One of the search platforms ranks document metadata very high, without much ability to tune the weighting algorithms. The other provides a way to tune the relevance; but it also tends to rank people relevance a bit differently - probably stressing documents about people less than the individual people profiles. The presentation was a bit vague about whether any actual tuning that might impact these differences on either platform.

The fact that one of the engines did well, and one did not, is not the big story here - although it is something for you to consider if you're evaluating enterprise search platforms. The real lesson here is that poor metadata makes even the best of search platforms perform poorly in some - if not most - cases.

 

February 02, 2011

Make your search engine seem psychic

People tell us that Google just seems to know what they want - it's almost psychic sometimes. If only every search engine could be like Google. Well, maybe it can.

Over the years, the functions performed by the actual 'search engine' have grown. At first, it was simply a search for an exact match - probably using punch card input. Then, over time, new and expanded capabilities were added, including stemming... synonyms... expanded query languages... weighting based on fields and metadata.. and more. But no matter what the search technology provided, really demanding search consumers pushed the technology, often by wrapping extra processing both at index time and at query time. This let the most innovative search driven organizations stay ahead of the competition. Two great examples today: LexisNexis and Factiva.

In fact, the magic that makes public Google search so good - and so much better than even the Google Search Appliance - is the armies of specialists analyzing query activity and adding specialized actions 'above' the search engine. 

One example of this many of us know well: enter a 12 digit number. if the format of the number matches the algorithm used by FedEx in creating tracking numbers, Google will offer to let you track that package directly from FedEx. For example, search for 796579057470 and you see a delivery record; change that last 1 to a zero, and you get no hits. How do they know?

The folks at Google must have noticed lots of 12 digit numbers as queries; and being smart, they realized that many were FedEx tracking numbers. I imagine, working in conjunction with FedEx, Google implemented the algorithm - what makes a valid FedEx tracking number - and boosted that as a 'best bet'.

Why is this important to you? Well, first it shows that Google.com is great in part because of the army of humans who review search activity, likely on a daily basis. Oh, sure, they have automated tools to help them out - with maybe 100 million queries every day, you'd need to automate too. They look for interesting trends and search behavior that lets them provide better answers.

Secondly, you can do the same sort of thing at your organization. Autonomy, Exalead, Microsoft, Lucene, and even the Google Search Appliance, can all be improved with some custom code after the user query but before the results show up. Did the user type what looks like a name? Check the employee directory and suggest a phone number or an email address. Is the query a product name? Suggest the product page. You can make your search psychic.

Finally, does the query return no hits? You can tell what form the user was on when the search was submitted - rather than a generic 'No Hits' page. Was the query more than a single term? Look for any of the words, rather than all; make a guess at what the user wanted, based on the search form, pervious searches, or whatever context you can find.

So how do you make your search engine seem psychic? Learn about query tuning and result list pre-processing; we've written a number of articles about query tuning in our newsletter alone.

But most importantly: mimic Google: work hard at it every day.

/s/Miles

 

 

 

 

November 08, 2010

Enterprise Search Summit DC November 15-18

The new home for the Fall ESS show is the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington, DC... so much for ESS-West! The new locale should bring a large number of new attendees and visitors, and a new co-located conference: SharePoint Symposium. InfoToday knows a trend when they see one!

In addition to the usual sessions provided to show sponsors, there are some interesting sessions by Tom Reamy of KAPS Group; Martin White of Intranet Focus; and eDiscovery expert Oz Benamram, CKO of White and Case LLP. Tony Byrne of Real Story Group will also be there, moderating the session I'll be participating in: Stump the  Search Consultant on Wednesday afternoon November 17th.

I really expect the show to have a large number of government folks in attendance, given how hard it's been for these good folks to travel to previous ESS conferences in New York and San Jose. InfoToday reports higher pre-registration this year than in the past; and I'll be happy to find out I'm wrong about most of the attendees being government or government-related folks.

Come by the session Wesnesday afternoon at 3PM; or leave a comment here if you want to get together.

 

 

January 20, 2010

Google I/I Open for registration!

Google has announced its Google I/O 2010 to be held in San Francisco May 19-20 at the Moscone Center.

I think this is their third such annual event, and it's always been a full two days of information. The good news is the price is $400 per person (until April 15), a bargain really. The bad news? You'll need to bring four or five people from your company to hit all of the sessions in each track!

This conference is VERY technical, VERY good. You get the most from it if you are a developer, you know Java, Ajax, Python, or the other technologies Google uses in its various products. You won't find much in the way of marketing fluff here: in our experience, most presenters are Google developers.

The conference is being held the same week that Gilbane content management conference comes back to San Francisco. Bad timing for them, but good for you: you can probably walk to the nearby Westin at lunch and maybe catch the exhibits.

Last year, attendees received a free phone for development purposes on the Android OpSys; who knows what they might give away this year - besides the expected cool T-shirt!

Register at http://code.google.com/events/io/2010/.

November 06, 2009

Relevance by, for, and of the people...

Have you ever found yourself browsing a search result list, clicked on a result with a promising teaser, and been frustrated that the document didn't live up to its summary? Me too... you mutter 'this search sucks' to yourself, click the browser's Back link, and browse the result list again, hoping for a better result.

It seems the obsession with 'social search' has lead a few of the best known search companies to tie click popularity back into the base relevance engine. Google recently announced  Self-Learning Scorer as a new part of its latest Google Search Appliance update; and Microsoft announced similar interactive behavior ranking capability in both SharePoint and FAST ESP search - Behavioral Adaptation, one engineered called it.

Color us skeptical. We like the concept of click popularity, but we prefer to see it linked with a 'thumbs-up/thumbs-down' feedback mechanism. If people like the document they see, they won't bother telling you what a great job you did; but trust us, if it's not what they wanted, they will spend the extra few seconds to enter a negative vote. We've not been able to find out the details of the Google feature; Microsoft tells us that the recommendations have a 'time to live' of 30 days, so at least there's hope that crummy documents with great summaries won't fill the top spots of your search result lists.

What do you think?

  

June 08, 2009

Enterprise Search Engine Optimization: eSEO

Last week at the Gilbane Conference in San Francisco, I participated in a panel "Search Survival Guide: Delivering Great Results" moderated by Hadley Reynolds of IDC. In the presentation, I offered a new view on improving enterprise search engine relevancy that I call eSEO.

The term SEO is well understood by - and widely practiced in - the corporate world.  The concept of SEO, as summarized by one of the Gilbane talks, states that "Key to the value of any Web content is the ability for people to find it”. In the SEO world this is done by combining organic results and keyword placement - advertising - to improve placement, maintain ranking, and monitor search engine position - results- over time.

While we've been helping our customers improve their enterprise search results, it's hard to convince them that search results are not a problem they can solve once. I've decided to apply a new term to this process - Enterprise Search Engine Optimization, or eSEO. To paraphrase the role of SEO, eSEO is the process of combining organic results and best bets to deliver correct, relevant, timely content to enterprise search users - employees, customers, partners, investors, and others.

For both organic and best bets, the first step is to identify what we call the "top 100" queries. Start by creating a histogram that shows the top terms from your search engine. I hope you'll agree that if the top queries - whether 100, 50, or even 20 - deliver great results, you're on your way to having happy users. Talk to your content owners as you review the histogram, and ask them to identify the best result for each.

Once you have a list of queries and results, start the two step process: tune the search engine using its native query tuning capabilities. This will impact the shape of the histogram, and over time should start delivering better results. The bad news is tuning like this doesn't position all of your top terms, and it would be silly to try to micro-manage the results for each. That's why search engines have best bets.

When you feel pretty good about the curve through query tuning, it' time to start setting up best bets - the "ad words" of eSEO. Limit the number of bests bets to one or two at most - but remember that you can use other real-estate like the rightmost column of the screen to suggest additional content. Some guidelines for best bets:

  • Use one or at most two best bets
  • Don't repeat a document already at the top of the organic results
  • Make sure your best bets respect security

Once you have tuned your search engine, and set up best bets for the most timely and actionable result, you're ready to roll it out. But then the ongoing part comes in: you need to review your search activity and best bets periodically. Usually, we'd suggest once a month for a while, then perhaps quarterly thereafter. You may find seasonal variations, and if you're not watching you'll miss a golden opportunity.

In Summary

1. eSEO is just as critical as SEO

  • Lost time and revenue
  • Legal exposure

2. Watch for trends over time: Search is not "fire and forget"

3. Make sure SEO doesn't impact your eSEO

  • Use fielded data that web search engines ignore for your tuning (i.e., 'Abstract' rather than 'Description'.

This will get you started; but because your queries and your content changes over time, it's a never-ending story. Some companies - ours included - have tools that can help. But no matter what, hang in there!

s/Miles


March 16, 2009

Document Level Security on Google Search Appliance, good Doc link

Two of our readers have pointed out that there is an improved document (as of late March 2009) on managing security for Google search at 

http://code.google.com/intl/nl-NL/apis/searchappliance/documentation/52/secure_search/secure_search_overview.html

Thanks for the feedback!

-----

Covers both the Enterprise and Mini:
http://code.google.com/apis/searchappliance/documentation/50/secure_search/secure_search_overview.html

Covers HTTP basic and NTLM,Windows file shares, SharePoint, etc.

January 12, 2009

Enterprise Search group on LinkedIn

There is a relatively active Enterprise Search Engine professional group over on LinkedIn - you might consider joining the group if you're there. The discussions have been about Open Source technology, visual search, Microsoft and FAST, federated search and more.

It's interesting that so many 'enterprise search' groups have grown so much in the last year or two including searchdev.org - I guess it reflects both the fact that it's finally being recognized as a mission-critical capability and that there is so few places to go for information. Hopefully we'll see even more discussion and user participation in the coming year!


October 08, 2008

Gartner Magic Quadrant 2008 Now Available

If you have not seen it, the new Gartner Magic Quadrant for Information Access - their name for intranet and customer facing search - has been published and is available for viewing on the Gartner web site thanks to a pointer from Microsoft's Analyst Relations page.

The big story, one which must have them fuming in England, is that Autonomy has dropped down a bit, and the combined Microsoft-FAST offerings have moved up a bit. This puts Autonomy a bit higher up on the 'Completeness of Vision' scale - by a few pixels - but a decent quarter-inch below Microsoft on the 'Ability to Execute' scale. Endeca, IBM, ZyLAB and Vivisimo squeaked into the upper right quadrant, while Google moved right to the link splitting the 'Challengers' from the 'Leaders', but ever so close - one could say the Google dot is on the line. It's odd that Google is not higher on the 'Ability to Execute' scale, since that usually means how well funded the company is. Perhaps they are looking at the budget/sales for only the Google appliance; but even then, Steve Arnold's numbers put them above the others on the scale.

Some excellent search products fell off the list this year, as Gartner has changed their methodology. The products we feel still qualify for the report include Dieselpoint, SLI Systems, and X1 Technologies, as well as newcomer Attivio. The article has more details. And as the con artist Fagan said in the play base don Dicken's Oliver Twist, '...if you happen to pass the Tower of London, have a look at the Crown Jewels'.