Sharepoint repositories are a prime content target for most search engines in the enterprise search arena, judging from the number of announcements I’ve previewed from search vendors in the last six month. This list is long and growing (Names link to press releases or product pages for Sharepoint search enabling):

Almost a year ago I began using a pre-MOSS version of Sharepoint to collect documents for a team activity. Ironically, the project was the selection, acquisition, implementation of a (non-Sharepoint) content management system to manage a corporate intranet, extranet, and hosted public Web site. The version of Sharepoint that was “set up” for me was strictly out of the box. Not being a development, I was still able to muddle my way through setting up the site, established users, posting announcements and categories of content to which I uploaded about fifty or sixty documents.

The most annoying discovery was the lack of a default search option. Later updating to MOSS solved the problem but at the time it was a huge aggravation. Because I could not guarantee a search option would appear soon enough, I had to painstakingly create titles with dates in order to give team members a contextual description as they would browse the site. Some of the documents I wanted to share were published papers and reviews of products. Dates were not too relevant for those, so I “enhanced” the titles with my own notations to help the finders select what they needed.

These silly “homemade” solutions are not uncommon when a tool does not anticipate how we would want to be able to use it. They persist as ways to handle our information storage and retrieval challenges. Since the beginning of time humans have devised ways to store things that they might want to re-use at some point in the future. Organizing for findability is an art as much at it is science. Information science only takes one so far in establishing the organizing criteria and assigning those criteria to content. Search engines that rely strictly on the author’s language will leave a lot of relevant content on the shelf for the same reasons as using Dewey Decimal classification without the complementary card catalog of subject topics. The better search engines exploit every structured piece of data or tagged content associated with a document, and that includes all the surrounding metadata assigned by “categorizers.” Categorizers might be artful human indexers or automated processes. Search engines with highly refined, intelligent categorizers to enable semantically rich finding experiences bring even more sophistication to the search experience.

But back to Sharepoint, which does have an embedded search option now, I’ve heard more than one expert comment on the likelihood that it will not be the “search” of choice for Sharepoint. That is why we have so many search options scrambling to promote their own Sharepoint search. This is probably because the organizing framework around contributing content to Sharepoint is so loosey goosey that an aggregation of many Sharepoint sites across the organization will be just what we’ve experienced with all these other homegrown systems – a dump full of idiosyncratic organizing tricks.

What you want to do, thoughtfully, is assess whether the search engine you need will share only Sharepoint repositories OR both structured and unstructured repositories across a much larger domain of types of content and applications. It will be interesting to evaluate the options that are out there for searching Sharepoint gold mines. Key questions: Is a product targeting only Sharepoint sites or diverse content? How will content across many types of repositories be aggregated and reflected organized results displays? How will the security models of the various repositories interact with the search engine? Answering these three questions first will quickly narrow your list of candidates for enterprise search.

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