Curated for content, computing, and digital experience professionals

Month: October 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

Lucene Open Source Community Commits to a Future in Search

It has been nearly two years since I commented on an article in Information Week, Open Source, Its Time has Come, Nov. 2008. My main point was the need for deep expertise to execute enterprise search really well. I predicted the growth of service companies with that expertise, particularly for open source search. Not long after I announced that, Lucid Imagination was launched, with its focus on building and supporting solutions based on Lucene and, its more turnkey version, Solr.

It has not taken long for Lucid Imagination (LI) to take charge of the Lucene/Solr community of practice (CoP), and to launch its own platform built on Solr, Lucidworks Enterprise. Open source depends on deep and sustained collaboration; LI stepped into the breach to ensure that the hundreds of contributors, users and committers have a forum. I am pretty committed to CoPs myself and know that nurturing a community for the long haul takes dedicated leadership. In this case it is undoubtedly enlightened self-interest that is driving LI. They are poised to become the strongest presence for driving continuous improvements to open source search, with Apache Lucene as the foundation.

Two weeks ago LI hosted Lucene Revolution, the first such conference in the US. It was attended by over 300 in Boston, October 7-8 and I can report that this CoP is vibrant, enthusiastic. Moderated by Steve Arnold, the program ran smoothly and with excellent sessions. Those I attended reflected a respectful exchange of opinions and ideas about tools, methods, practices and priorities. While there were allusions to vigorous debate among committers about priorities for code changes and upgrades, the mood was collaborative in spirit and tinged with humor, always a good way to operate when emotions and convictions are on stage.

From my 12 pages of notes come observations about the three principal categories of sessions:

  1. Discussions, debates and show-cases for significant changes or calls for changes to the code
  2. Case studies based on enterprise search applications and experiences
  3. Case studies based on the use of Lucene and Solr embedded in commercial applications

Since the first category was more technical in nature, I leave the reader with my simplistic conclusions: core Apache Lucene and Solr will continue to evolve in a robust and aggressive progression. There are sufficient committers to make a serious contribution. Many who have decades of search experience are driving the charge and they have cut their teeth on the more difficult problems of implementing enterprise solutions. In announcing Lucidworks Enterprise, LI is clearly bidding to become a new force in the enterprise search market.

New and sustained build-outs of Lucene/Solr will be challenged by developers with ideas for diverging architectures, or “forking” code, on which Eric Gries, LI CEO, commented in the final panel. He predicted that forking will probably be driven by the need to solve specific search problems that current code does not accommodate. This will probably be more of a challenge for the spinoffs than the core Lucene developers, and the difficulty of sustaining separate versions will ultimately fail.

Enterprise search cases reflected those for whom commercial turnkey applications will not or cannot easily be selected; for them open source will make sense. Coming from LI’s counterpart in the Linux world, Red Hat, are these earlier observations about why enterprises should seek to embrace open source solutions, in short the sorry state of quality assurance and code control in commercial products. Add to that the cost of services to install, implement and customize commercial search products. The argument would be to go with open source for many institutions when there is an imperative or call for major customization.

This appears to be the case for two types of enterprises that were featured on the program: educational institutions and government agencies. Both have procurement issues when it comes to making large capital expenditures. For them it is easier to begin with something free, like open source software, then make incremental improvements and customize over time. Labor and services are cost variables that can be distributed more creatively using multiple funding options. Featured on the program were the Smithsonian, Adhere Solutions doing systems integration work for a number of government agencies, MITRE (a federally funded research laboratory), U. of Michigan, and Yale. CISCO also presented, a noteworthy commercial enterprise putting Lucene/Solr to work.

The third category of presenters was, by far, the largest contingent of open source search adopters, producers of applications that leverage Lucene and Solr (and other open source software) into their offerings. They are solidly entrenched because they are diligent committers, and share in this community of like-minded practitioners who serve as an extended enterprise of technical resources that keeps their overhead low. I can imagine the attractiveness of a lean business that can run with an open source foundation, and operates in a highly agile mode. This must be enticing and exciting for developers who wilt at the idea of working in a constrained environment with layers of management and political maneuvering.

Among the companies building applications on Lucene that presented were: Access Innovations, Twitter, LinkedIn, Acquia, RivetLogic and Salesforce.com. These stand out as relatively mature adopters with traction in the marketplace. There were also companies present that contribute their value through Lucene/Solr partnerships in which their products or tools are complementary including: Basis Technology, Documill, and Loggly.

Links to presentations by organizations mentioned above will take you to conference highlights. Some will appeal to the technical reader for there was a lot of code sharing and technical tips in the slides. The diversity and scale of applications that are being supported by Lucene and Solr was impressive. Lucid Imagination and the speakers did a great job of illustrating why and how open source has a serious future in enterprise search. This was a confidence building exercise for the community.

Two sentiments at the end summed it up for me. On the technical front Eric Gries observed that it is usually clear what needs to be core (to the code) and what does not belong. Then there is a lot of gray area, and that will contribute to constant debate in the community. For the user community, Charlie Hull, of flax opined that customers don’t care whether (the code) is in the open source core or in the special “secret sauce” application, as long as the product does what they want.

Adobe Releases Digital Publishing Suite

Adobe has released a series of tools designed to expedite digital publishing across various platforms. Digital Publishing Suite allows publishers to upload articles directly from InDesign CS5, and supports PDF and HTML5. The software can run on RIM’s PlayBook, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, Apple’s iPad and forthcoming Android platforms. The software allows dynamic user control of online publications, and readers are able to resize pages and move content around to suit their needs. Graphics, video and audio content can be built into the publications. The full version of Digital Publishing Suite will be available next year for a $699 licence fee, but beta code is now available from Adobe. http://www.adobe.com/

You Are Your Organization’s Chief Collaboration Officer

There have been a couple of interesting blog posts about organizational collaboration leadership penned recently by respected, influential thinkers. Last week, Morten Hansen and Scott Tapp published Who Should Be Your Chief Collaboration Officer? on the Harvard Business Review site. Yesterday, Dion Hinchcliffe posted Who should be in charge of Enterprise 2.0? on Enterprise Irregulars.

It is logical that the question of the proper seat of ownership for enterprise collaboration efforts is being raised frequently at this moment. Many organizations are starting the process of rationalizing numerous, small collaboration projects supported by enterprise social software. Those social pilots not only need to be reconciled with each other, but with legacy collaboration efforts as well. That effort requires leadership and accountability.

Both of the posts cited above – as well as the comments made on them – add valuable ideas to the debate about who should be responsible for stimulating and guiding collaboration efforts within organizations. However, both discussions miss a critical conclusion, which I will make below. First, allow me to share my thoughts on the leadership models suggested in the posts and comments.

While it is critical to have collaboration leadership articulated and demonstrated at the senior executive level, the responsibility for enterprise collaboration cannot rest on one person, especially one who is already extremely busy and most likely does not have the nurturing and coaching skills needed for the job. Besides, any function that is so widely distributed as collaboration cannot be owned by one individual; organizations proved that long ago when they unsuccessfully appointed Chief Knowledge Officers.

Governance of enterprise collaboration can (and should) be provided by a Collaboration Board. That body can offer and prescribe tools, and establish and communicate policy, as well as good practices. However, they cannot compel others in the organization to collaborate more or better. Yes, Human Resources can measure and reward collaboration efforts of individuals, but they can only dangle the carrot; I have never seen an organization punish an employee for not collaborating when they are meeting other goals and objectives that are given higher value by the organization.

There is only one person (or many, depending on your perspective) for the job of actively collaborating – YOU! Ultimately, each individual in the organization is responsible for collaboration. He can be encouraged and incented to collaborate, but the will to work with others must come from the individual.

Collaboration in the enterprise is similar in this regard to knowledge management, where the notion of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) has been gaining acceptance. PKM advocates believe that having each member of the organization capture, share, and reuse knowledge, in ways that benefit them personally, is far more effective than corporate mandated knowledge management efforts, which generally produce benefits for the enterprise, but not the individuals of which it is comprised.

So it is with collaboration. If an individual does not see any direct benefit from working with others, they will not do so. Conversely, if every employee is empowered to collaborate and rewarded in ways that make their job easier, they will.

The Enterprise 2.0 movement has correctly emphasized the emergent nature of collaboration. Individuals must be given collaboration tools and guidance by the organization, but then must be trusted to work together to meet personal goals that roll-up into measures of organizational success. The only individual that can “own” collaboration is each of us.

What’s Next with Smart Content?

Over the past few weeks, since publishing Smart Content in the Enterprise, I’ve had several fascinating lunchtime conversations with colleagues concerned about content technologies. Our exchanges wind up with a familiar refrain that goes something like this. “Geoffrey, you have great insights about smart content but what am I supposed to do with all this information?” Ah, it’s the damning with faint praise gambit that often signals an analysis paralysis conundrum for decision-making.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear — I do not have an out-of-the-box prescription for a solution. It’s not simply a matter of focusing on your customer experience, optimizing your content for search, investing in a component content management platform, or adopting DITA – although, depending on the situation, I may recommend some combination of these items as part of a smart content strategy.

For me, smart content remains a work in progress. I expect to develop the prescriptive road map in the months ahead. Here’s a quick take on where I am right now.

  • For publishers, it’s all about transforming the publishing paradigm through content enrichment – defining the appropriate level of granularity and then adding the semantic metadata for automated processing.
  • For application developers, it’s all about getting the information architecture right and ensuring that it’s extensible. There needs to be sensible storage, the right editing and management tools, multiple methods for organizing content, as well as a flexible rendering and production environment.
  • For business leaders and decision makers, there needs to be an upfront investment in the right set of content technologies that will increase profits, reduce operating costs, and mitigate risks. No, I am not talking about rocket science. But you do need a technology strategy and a business plan.

As highlighted by the case studies included in the report, I can point to multiple examples where organizations have done the right things to produce notable results. Dale and I will continue the smart content discussions at the Gilbane Boston conference right after Thanksgiving, both through our preconference workshop, and at a conference session “Smart Content in the Real World: Case Studies and Real Results.”

We are also launching a Smart Content Readiness Service, where we will engage with organizations on a consulting basis to identify:

  • The business drivers where smart content will ensure competitive advantage when distributing business information to customers and stakeholders
  • The technologies, tools, and skills required to componentized content, and target distribution to various audiences using multiple devices
  • The operational roles and governance needed to support smart content development and deployment across an organization
  • The implementation planning strategies and challenges to upgrade content and creation and delivery environments

Please contact me if you are interested in learning more.

In short, to answer my lunchtime colleagues, I cannot (yet) prescribe a fully baked solution. It’s too early for the recipes and the cookbook. But I do believe that the business opportunities and benefits are readily at hand. At this point, I would invite you to join the discussion by letting me know what you expect, what approaches you’ve tried, where you’ve wound up, what you think needs to come next – and how we might help you.

Introducing the Web Engagement Capability Model

To support our research and analysis, Scott Liewehr and I have been working on a capability model to define how we look at Web Engagement that you’ll see coming through our work over the coming months and I thought I’d give a bit of a preview here.

As I have discussed previously (in this post) there is more to this Web Engagement thing than Web Content Management, although the lines are blurry as there are a myriad of vendors that can claim capabilities here. Some of this great stuff is coming from WCM vendors, analytics vendors and some very nice niche players that we think our clients should look at as they build out their engagement strategy.

Note – I am using the term ‘engagement’, not ‘experience’ – in my opinion the experience is a vital element of engagement, but it’s not the broader topic – maybe more on that in a later post.  

Clearly, if you are a digital marketer, this can look confusing and I know of at least one organization that has deployed three different web analytics packages as each fulfills a different engagement function. Our intention is that as we delve into this engagement tier, we can start to unravel who exactly does what.

We are also seeing campaign management and digital marketing requirements entering the WCM selection process, often disconnected from a wider strategy. I am not suggesting that having digital marketing requirement in a WCM RFP is necessarily bad – we just need to go into this with our eyes open and get some clarity over how we structure those requirements.

Our concern is that we learn the lessons of ECM and big IT and stay alert to the risk of implementing a system that ticks a lot of RFP boxes, does lots of things OK, but nothing really very well or that we take our eye off the ball of the innovation in this space. In either case the engagement capabilities of an organization could become constrained.

We will be coming out with some pretty graphics, but here I want to discuss the five main pillars that Scott and I are putting together by which an organization can judge their web engagement strategy and capabilities:

  1. Content Management – Yes, content management, not web content management. This is the capability of an organization to manage and publish different kinds of assets to multiple visitor touch points. Not necessarily one system, but a joined up integrated process combining the disciplines of managing localization, governance, multiple sites, digital assets, publish to email etc.
  2. Social Media – Not just about an organizations presence on Youtube, Twitter or Facebook, but how that is leveraged and measured to form an integrated part of the audience experience.
  3. Visitor Insight – Are you just counting visitors? Having lots of visitors may just mean they like pictures of funny kittens; having well understood engaged visitors is a business asset. Do you know who are your most valuable and engaged visitors?
  4. Integrated Campaign Management – In most organizations our websites are part of a greater digital communications machine and our audiences view us a single entity across multiple touch points. This capability is about how each of our digital marketing moving parts work together.
  5. Organizational Preparedness – The discipline of customer engagement spans various parts of an organization that have often been traditionally in separate silos. From customer services, to the database marketing guys to the cool guys in the black rimmed glasses in the agency – your capability to engage relies on how joined up are these folks in delivering this multi-channel brand experience.

Remember this is a capability assessment, not a vendor maturity model or a magic err.. anything. It’s a way for people to think about implementing Web Engagement and the areas that may need focus.

We’ll no doubt tinker with the names as we start to publish more on this, but hopefully this can give you a taste of our thinking here.

Website Governance in the Enterprise- A Chat With Ian Truscott

In case you missed it this week, I chatted with Ian this week regarding his latest beacon, Looking Outside the CMS Box for Enterprise Website Governance. It got broken down into 4 videos and promoted across our various video channels (Facebook, Youtube, and our main channel Gilbane.blip.tv). Also make sure you aren’t missing out on the popular posts over on the XML blog

I’ve embedded the videos below if you missed them:

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