A week late I am wrapping up my first six months blogging for The Gilbane Group on enterprise search. I am attempting a retrospective of discoveries, thoughts and issues that surfaced in second quarter. June was especially busy and now that I have had time to sort the sortable here are a few noteworthy highlights and reflections on them. In short, the search market is complex and becoming more so on a monthly basis.
Google the company and Google the product suite are so dominant that any article about search in the mainstream or technical presses evokes the “G-word.” This happens even if Google is not the main topic.

Consider for example Walter Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal in this article June 28, “Ask.com Takes Lead in Designing Display of Search Results.” The first paragraph never mentioned Ask.com but began “Google and other search companies …” On the same page was an article “Start-ups Make Inroads with Google’s Work Force.” Earlier that week the New York Times ran a story “The Human Touch that May Loosen Google’s Grip,” MassHighTech referred to Google throughout an article “Why the Best Search Marketers are Right-Brained,” and Intelligent Enterprise did as well in “Enterprise Search: Seek and Maybe You’ll Find.” [More about the latter further on.] A search on www.Clusty.com for “Google” under News>Top News today gets 89 hits and “Toyota” 49.

Korea presents us with a take on Internet search that I think is highly relevant to the enterprise search market as described in the New York Times, July 5 in “South Koreans Connect Through Search Engine.” It turns out that the amount of content in Korean on the WWW is so scanty that Google is irrelevant. Instead a five year-old company, Naver.com is giving Koreans what they really need, answers to questions native Koreans are seeking, built up collaboratively through their cultural “helpfulness.” Naver.com services 77% of all Internet “searches originating in South Korea.” Just as Google can’t deliver to a Korean population what it wants to know, Google can’t really “understand” all of the information needs nuances in culturally diverse enterprises. Naver maintains “questions and answers in proprietary databases not shared with other portals or search engines” as well an enterprise might want to do.

At the Red Herring conference in Boston on June 28, a panel of industry leaders, in a session entitled “The New Frontier in Search” was asked by the moderator whether there will “be any major breakthroughs in semantic search in the next ten years.” The answer from all four including Jeff Cutler of Answers.com and Doug Leeds of Ask.com was an unequivocal , “NO!” I have a list of over 30 companies working on or publicly “sniffing around” the semantic search marketplace. Others are sure to be engaged in stealth work so “not in ten years” is hard to digest but who really knows?

Also at Red Herring, in an interview with EMC’s Mark Lewis, he emphasized a compelling issue for enterprise search, “security,” namely authentication for permission to view search results. In another panel session moderated by Judy Hurwitz on SOA, the security issue was even more dominant as speakers discussed the complexities of integrating heterogeneous applications in a SOA environment while maintaining security integrity. As the number of variables in the architecture rises, so too the technical difficulties of making secure content really secure in search.

The Enterprise Search landscape is pretty crowded with companies that are more focused on helping us find what is in the organization than what is on an enterprise’s Web site. Summarizing the challenges these vendors face is the aforementioned article, “Enterprise Search: Seek and Maybe You’ll Find.” Their market is my beat but grappling with the realities of serving such diverse audiences is a serious necessity.

OK, this blog entry is already too long but you get the idea. The fact that the New York Times has recently had at least one article a week relating to search technologies is really a business marker. While search was introduced to professional searchers 35 years ago, it has been a real sleeper for most of the decades since. Web technology is truly the enabler of so much that makes search work for the masses in so many environments. It’s pretty clear that although search is ubiquitous in the workplace, its commodity status and the normalizing of enterprise search protocols are still a few years off. It is going to be interesting to see who stumbles and who prevails of the current bumper crop of offerings. Or will another disruption take us into more innovative forms of search?

Stay tuned for the next six months – I’m predicting more shakeout in the industry and more adoption of different flavors of search in more organizations. Trying to keep up will be the primary challenge.

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