I participated in one search vendor’s user conference this week, and a webinar sponsored by another. Both impressed me because they expressed values that I respect in the content software industry and they provided solid evidence that they have the technology and business delivery infrastructure to back up the rhetoric.

You have probably noted that my blog is slim on comments about specific products and this trend will continue to be the norm. However, in addition to the general feeling of good will from Endeca customers that I experienced at Endeca Discover 2007, I heard clear messages from sessions I attended that reinforced the company’s focus on helping clients solve complex content retrieval problems. Complexity is inherent in enterprises because of diversity among employees, methods of operating, technologies deployed and varied approaches to meeting business demands at every level.

In presentations by Paul Sonderegger and Jason Purcell care was given to explain Endeca’s approach to building their search technology solutions and why. At the core is a fundamental truth about how organizations and people function; you never know how a huge amount of unpredictably interconnected stuff will be approached. Endeca wants its users to be able to use information as levers to discover, through personalized methods, relationships among content pieces that will pry open new possibilities for understanding the content.

Years ago I was actively involved with a database model called an associative structural model. It was developed explicitly to store and manipulate huge amount of database text and embodied features of hierarchical, networked and relational data structures.

It worked well for complex, integrated databases because it allowed users to manipulate and mingle data groups in unlimited ways. Unfortunately, it required a user to be able to visualize the possibilities for combining and expressing data from hundreds of fields in numerous tables by using keys. This structural complexity could not easily be taught or learned, and tools for simple visualization were not available in the early 1980s. As I listened to Jason Purcell describe Endeca’s optimized record store, and concept of “intra-query” to provide solutions for the problems posed by double uncertainty I thought, “They get it.” They have acknowledged the challenge of making it simple to update, use and exploit vast knowledge stores; they are working hard to meet the challenge. Good for them! We all want flexibility to work the way we want but if it is not easy we will not adopt.

In a KMWorld webinar, Vivisimo’s Jerome Pesente and customer Arnold Verstraten of NV Organon co-presented with Matt Brown of Forrester Research. The theme was search security models. Besides the reasons for up-front consideration for security when accessing and retrieving from enterprise repositories, three basic control models were described. All three were based on access control lists (ACLs), how and why they are used by Vivisimo.

Having worked with defense agencies, defense contractors and corporations with very serious security requirements on who can access what, I am very familiar with the types of data structures and indexing methods that can be used. I was pleased to hear the speakers address trade-offs that include performance and deployment issues. It served to remind me that organizations do need to be thinking about this early in the selection process; inability to handle the most sensitive content appropriately should eliminate any enterprise search vendor that tries to equivocate on security. Also, as Organon did, there is nothing that demonstrates the quality of the solution like a “bake-off” against a sufficient corpus of content that will demonstrate whether all documents and their metadata that must not be viewed by some audiences in fact are always excluded from search results for all in those restricted audiences. Test it. Really test it!