Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Autonomy Ultraseek Argues There's More to Search Than You-Know-Who

In case I didn’t make myself clear yesterday, my conclusion about balanced scorecard software is that the systems themselves are not very interesting, even though the concept itself can be extremely valuable. There’s nothing wrong with that: payroll software also isn’t very interesting, but people care deeply that it works correctly. In the case of balanced scorecards, you just need something to display the data—fancy dashboard-style interfaces are possible but not really the point. Nor is there much mystery about the underlying technology. All the value and all the art lie elsewhere: in picking the right measures and making sure managers pay attention to what the scorecards are telling them.

I only bring this up to explain why I won’t be writing much about balanced scorecard systems. In a word (and with all due respect, and stressing again that the application is important), I find them boring.

Contrast this with text search systems. These, I find fascinating. The technology is delightfully complicated and subtle differences among systems can have big implications for how well they serve particular purposes. Plus, as I mentioned a little while ago, there is some interesting convergence going on between search technology and data integration systems.

One challenge facing search vendors today is the dominance of Google. I hadn’t really given this much thought, but reading the white paper “Business Search vs. Consumer Search” (registration required) from Autonomy’s Ultraseek product group, it became clear that they are finding Google to be major competition. The paper doesn’t mention Google by name, but everything from the title on down is focused on explaining why there are “fundamental differences between searching for information on the Internet and finding the right document quickly inside your corporate intranets, public websites and partner extranets.”

The paper states Ultraseek’s case well. It mentions five specific differences between “consumer” search on the Web and business search:

- business users have different, known roles which can be used to tune results
- business users can employ category drill-down, metadata, and other alternatives to keyword searches
- business searches must span multiple repositories, not just Web pages
- business repositories are in many different formats and languages
- business searches are constrained by security and different user authorities

Ultraseek overstates its case in a few areas. Consumer search can use more than just keywords, and in fact can employ quite a few of the text analysis methods that Ultraseek mentions as business-specific. Consumer search is also working on moving beyond Web pages to different repositories, formats and languages. But known user roles and security issues are certainly more relevant to business than consumer search engines. And, although Ultraseek doesn’t mention it, Web search engines don't generally support some other features, like letting content owners tweak results to highlight particular items, that may matter in a business context.

But, over all, the point is well taken: there really is a lot more to search than Google. People need to take the time to find the right tool for the job at hand.

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