77 posts categorized "Microsoft"

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!




March 22, 2012

The sorry state of FAST training

Suppose your company uses SharePoint 2010. Suppose your company uses FAST Search for SharePoint as well. Where would you go for training?

Today I decided to see where we could get training for one of our new guys. My first stop was the old FAST University, which now directs you to Microsoft Learning at


There, you can read about all of the classes, except that when you click Register, you find a page with class schedules for January and February of.. 2012. None after that. If you log in, you find a few classes for people with advanced Microsoft certifications, but nothing helpful.

I called the number where it suggested I could contact FAST University; and a very nice person directed me to the Microsoft Learning site (note: the title on the page I was looking at said 'Microsoft Learning' but apparently that is really the old FAST site at mzinga.)

On the real Microsoft Learning portal - microsoft.com/learning - I did a search for 'fast search' only to find:


I went back to search for simply 'search' and did find a single class with FAST Search in the title - sadly, one offered August of 2011 - 6 months ago. 

After a call back to the nice person on the other Microsoft Learning page at mzinga, she told me there are no more FAST classes (meaning FAST ESP, I guess); and that for Fast Search for SharePoint classes, I need to find a partner. Go back to the (real) Microsoft Learning site, search for 'class locator' to find a partner. Use care: if you click on the class description, you'll see the date first published, not the date of any classes: to get that, you need to click on 'instructor lead'. 

So yes, there were three training providers here in Silicon Valley. And one claims to have classroom training for next week! But when I called them (at 1:15PM) an answering service picked up and told me that because I called 'outside of normal business hours' he's have to have them call me back. Nothing yet, day after. Maybe an early Easter holiday?

Second training partner: went to their web site - no phone number, but a 'Live Chat'. "Sorry, no operators are available; you'll be connected to the next one free'. An hour later, nada. I left.

Final partner - ONLC - picked up the phone; confirms that they teach the class, but will need a few more students to register before they can confirm it will happen. If it does happen, they teach it remotely. I can go into San Jose at their center, or even take it from here in our offices. Cool. But they can't find four students in the US to take it?

Kudos to ONLC; but it's a shame to see how far down the line training is for Microsoft with respect to FAST Search for SharePoint. Luckily, there are a number of good former FGAST ESP partners - including us - who can help you with what you need, be it training, remote support, or even appdev.

What do you do for Microsoft search training?






March 14, 2012

Vannevar Bush: His future, our present

In the last few weeks I've been reading 'Your life, Uploaded' by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell. The book talks about 'MyLifeBits', one of the Microsoft Research projects. In it, the authors talk about the process of capturing your life digitally. It sounds a bit compulsive to me, but you never know: I used to think texting was something only kids did, and yet I now use text messages to communicate with other folks in our company nearly every day.

Anyway, the book mentioned Vannevar Bush, one of the little known pioneers of the internet who was born in 1890 and who passed away in 1974. It might be a push, but it seems to me he was, to the internet, what FrederickTerman (one of Vannevar's students at MIT) was to Silicon Valley. He lead a fascinating life, serving in the National Research Council in World War I, founded Raytheon, and served as Director of the Office of Scientific Research and development during World War II. In all, an amazing life.

What I find most interesting is an article he published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1945 before the end of the war. In it, he writes about a device he believes will help scientists and researchers index and cross-index their work; he called it a Memex. If you read the article, you'll see he is talking about the technology of today: the internet, highly capable indexing and retrieval technologies, and amazing storage capabilities available to the common man.

It turns out that the Memex was one of the inspirations for Gordon Bell in attempting to digitize his life. Like text messages, it may be new and on the fringe, but it sounds alot like Apple's Knowledge Navigator from the mid-1980s, cloud computing, and some entirely new things rolled into one. Just in time, too, since my memory seems to be less effective every year. Another good reason to write a blog!

What do you think? Was it a lucky guess, or was Bush a true visionary?


March 06, 2012

I'll know it when I see it - or can draw it

In case you missed it, Microsoft recently filed a patent for a new kind of search front-end - one where you draw a picture of what you are looking for. 

As posted on Geekwire and on Microsoft in the last few days, the idea is that a user can draw a picture of an object, and the technology can find pictures of similar things. This seems to be related to the 'search by color map' released on Bing in 2010, which has a good tutorial on the Xian-Sheng Hua blog. 

Many folks have lamented Microsoft's late arrival to the smart phone and tablet market; but it's easy to see that this innovative search interface seems to give Bing an advantage in the growing mobile device marketplace. Looking for something? Draw a picture, and search the web. 

I'm looking forward to trying this out - I recall getting a not-so-great grade in art back in elementary school, and I can only hope that this new technology understands what I meant, not what i drew for it. 

Right now it's hard to imagine a use for this in the enterprise - well, other than for public facing search. But I may be wrong. Do you think you can draw an enterprise search request well enough to have a search platform find it? What do you think? 




November 22, 2011

Webinar: Improving SharePoint search with the FAST indexing pipeline

For those of you still at your desks this short Thanksgiving week, you might be interested in a webinar we'll be doing with our partner SurfRay early next month.

"Everyone knows that great metadata is key to a great user search experience, but what can you do if your existing content falls short? The FAST Search for SharePoint pipeline provides a way to enhance document metadata during the indexing process so your content has better metadata and users will experience better search results.

During the webinar we’ll talk about what the pipeline is, give examples of how it can improve your metadata, and describe some real-world scenarios where having access to the pipeline resulted in better search quality and happier users."

How can the indexing pipeline improve search quality? You'll have to come to the webinar to hear our take, but a hint: you can add and improve metadata to the document during the indexing process - which means better search.

The webinar is planned for Friday, December 9 at 2PM Eastern/11AM Pacific.  You can register for the event now.

7 things GMail Search needs to change

My General Complaint:

If you've had a gmail account for many years, either for work or personal, it's getting large enough that GMail's search is starting to break.

Anything word you can think of to type in will match tons of useless results.  Eventually, as you try to think of more words to add, your results count goes to zero.

If you were lucky enough to have starred the email when you saw it, or can remember who might have sent it, or maybe the approximate timeframe, or maybe you think you might have sent the email in question from this account, you *might* have a chance.

A Tough Problem:

I realize this seems like classic precision and recall troubles, but Google is pretty smart, and they a fair amount of metadata, and a lot of context about me, so there's some potential fixes to hang a hat on.

And some of my ideas involve making labels/tags (Gmail's equivalent of folders), but that assumes that people are using labels, which I suspect many folks don't, or at least not beyond the default ones you get.  Well... sure, but they DO have them, and there's an automated rules engine in Gmail to set them, so presumably a few people use tags / labels?  (or maybe nobody does and, in hindsight, maybe a legacy feature!?) So, if you're going to have labels, and you've got even a few users who both with them, then make them as useful as possible.  AND maybe make Labels more visible, maybe easier to set, more powerful, etc.

On To The Ideas:

1: Make it easier to refine search results.

Let's face it, as you accumulate more and more email, the odds of finding the email you want on the first screen of search results goes WAY down.

Google wisely uses most-recent-first sorting in search results, vs. their normal relevancy, in the GMail search UI.  I'm not sure why, this seems like an odd choice for them given all the bravado about Google's relevancy, but I'm guessing it was too weird to have email normally sorted by date in most parts of the UI, but have it switch back and forth between relevancy and date as you alternate between search and normal browsing.  Also, maybe they found it's more likely you're looking f or a very recent email.  You could fold "freshness" into relevancy calculations, but just respecting date keeps it more consistent.

Yes, GMail does have some search options... I'll get to those, but suffice to say they are very "non iterative".

Other traditional filters should be facets as well.  "Sent" emails, date ranges, "has attachments" (maybe even how many, sizes, or types)

2: Promote form-based "Search options" to FULL Facets

You can limit your search to a subset of your email if you've Labeled it - this is the GMail equivalent of Folders.  But doing this is a hassle (see item 3), and you can't do this after the fact, once you're looking at results.

So, if you do normal text search, and then remember you labeled it, you can't just click on the tags on the left of the results.  Those are for browsing, and will actually clear out you search terms.  These should be clickable drilldown facets, perhaps even with match counts in the parenthesis, and maybe some stylizing to make it clear that they will affect the current search results.

Yes, there's a syntax you can use:

lebal:your-label regular search terms

It's a nice option for advanced users who are accurate touch typists and remember the tag name they want, but this should also be easy from the UI.  Yes, there is an advanced search / search options forms, but this brings me to item 3...

(read the rest of the ideas after the break)

Continue reading "7 things GMail Search needs to change" »

November 08, 2011

Are you spending too much on enterprise search?

If your organization uses enterprise search, or if you are in the market for a new search platform, you may want to attend our webinar next week "Are you spending too much for search?". The one hour session will address:

  • What do users expect?
  • Why not just use Google?
  • How much search do you need?
  • Is an RFI a waste of time?   

Date: Wednesday, November 16 2011

Time: 11AM Pacific Standard Time / 1900 UTC

Register today!

August 22, 2011

Searching for Sarah at SharePoint Conference 2011

Just noticed one of the most interesting sessions at last May's Enterprise Search Summit is coming to the October Microsoft SharePoint Conference! We blogged about it back in May.

Basically, Booz & Company did an evaluation of SharePoint 2010 search - FAST Search for SharePoint as I recall - versus the Google Search Appliance they had been using. At one point, the search business owner was trying to find the last name of a woman she had met in the firm; and when she searched for 'Sarah', hoping to find her in the directory, the GSA returned 60 men in the result list. Can you guess why? A hint: metadata (check the earlier article, or come to SPC 2011 to find out).

Now in fact, we think the GSA could have been tuned to emulate this OOB behavior by SharePoint; but this is a reminder that not every search platform works great in every environment. Buyer beware!

Ever had a similar experience? Let us know about it!


August 02, 2011

Connecting Google to SharePoint 2010: White Paper

Ba_insight_logo NIE partner BA Insight will soon be releasing a white paper highlighting key differences between SharePoint 2010 search and the Google Search Appliance.

The early draft we've seen of Google & Microsoft Enterprise Search Product Comparison, and can talk about some of the discussion points.

Update: The white paper is now available! Get it now.

Generally, the research paper discusses the following topics:

1. Content: Crawling, indexing, security, and connectors

2. Query processing: Manual and automatic relevance tuning; actionable results; and layout design

3. Vendor 'intangibles': Maintenance, support, vendor stability, licensing and the partner eco-system

BA-Insight is a large Microsoft partner, and their DNA reflects it. But many customers use Google Search Appliances with SharePoint, and this comparison is nicely done. Keep an eye on their site or stay tuned for updates here when the research paper is available.

And let us know what's on your mind with respect to enterprise search - leave a comment!



July 27, 2011

Great 'site documentation' toolkit for SharePoint

As in much of the IT world, when you build a new system or farm, you need to document everything for posterity - and to save potentially hours of effort when things stop working in the future. SharePoint 2010 is no different.

Doc_kit I just learned of a tool that will document your SharePoint farm(s) for you, greatly easing the problem most of us will face at one point or another. From the folks at Acceleratio Ltd based in Croatia but with  US sales and support, the folks who created the Documentation Toolkit for SharePoint understand both the problem - and their audience. Pricing is available per farm ($299 US) or, for consulting firms that maintain multiple farms for their users, for $499.

There is a 30 day free evaluation/download; and using the claim code 'summer2011' you can get 50% of the purchase price through the end of August.

Normally we would have posted this on SearchComponentsOnline.com, another site we run; but it's pretty new, and not as many people know to look there for free and low cost tools for those interested in enterprise search.