The Noisy Channel

 

A Call to Action

July 2nd, 2008 · 6 Comments · Uncategorized

I sent the following open letter to the leading enterprise providers and industry analysts in the information access community. I am inspired by the recent efforts of researchers to bring industry events to major academic conferences. I’d like to see industry–particularly enterprise providers and industry analysts–return the favor, embracing these events to help bridge the gap between research and practice.

Dear friends in the information access community,

I am reaching out to you with this open letter because I believe we, the leading providers and analysts in the information access community, share a common goal of helping companies understand, evaluate, and differentiate the technologies in this space.

Frankly, I feel that we as a community can do much better at achieving this goal. In my experience talking with CTOs, CIOs, and other decision makers in enterprises, I’ve found that too many people fail to understand either the state of current technology or the processes they need to put in place to leverage that technology. Indeed, a recent AIIM report confirms what I already knew anecdotally–that there is a widespread failure in the enterprise to understand and derive value from information access.

In order to advance the state of knowledge, I propose that we engage an underutilized resource: the scholarly community of information retrieval and information science researchers. Not only has this community brought us many of the foundations of the technology we provide, but it has also developed a rigorous tradition of evaluation and peer review.

In addition, this community has been increasingly interested in connection with practitioners, as demonstrated by the industry days held at top-tier scholarly conferences, such as SIGIR, CIKM, and ECIR. I have participated in a few of these, and I was impressed with the quality of both the presenters and the attendees. Web search leaders, such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, have embraced these events, as have smaller companies that specialize in search and related technologies, such as information extraction. Enterprise information access providers, however, have been largely absent at these events, as have industry analysts.

I suggest that we take at least the following steps to engage the scholarly community of information retrieval and information science researchers:

  • Collaborate with the organizers of academic conferences such as SIGIR, CIKM, and ECIR to promote participation of enterprise information access providers and analysts in conference industry days.
  • Participate in workshops that are particularly relevant to enterprise information access providers, such as the annual HCIR and exploratory search workshops.

The rigor and independence of the conferences and workshops makes them ideal as vendor-neutral forums. I hope that you all will join me in working to strengthen the connection between the commercial and scholarly communities, thus furthering everyone’s understanding of the technology that drives our community forward.

Please contact me at dt@endeca.com or join in an open discussion at http://thenoisychannel.com if you are interested in participating in this effort.

Sincerely,
Daniel Tunkelang

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Iadh // Jul 2, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Daniel,

    This is a very good initiative.

    I do hope to see more practitioners from Enterprise search companies engaging with the IR specialists in academia, and actively participating in relevant workshops and industry day events at the likes of sigir, cikm and ecir.

    Iadh

  • 2 Daniel Tunkelang // Jul 2, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Iadh, thank you for chiming in. Of course, your own efforts at RIAO ’07 and ECIR ’08 are great examples of academia reaching out to industry.

    I also heard back from Carl Frappaolo at AIIM, who suggested that AIIM might be able to serve as a vendor-neutral forum. I’m certainly open to that possibility as well.

    As someone who works in industry but has strong ties to academia, I see lots of room to both to bridge the gap between research and practice and to improve the state of understanding in the marketplace.

    One of the reasons I proposed academic conferences as venues is that industry events at academic conferences are growing while commercially organized vendor-neutral conferences seem to be on the decline. Another is that I feel the research and practice communities have much to learn from one another.

    That said, I do see a role for industry-oriented forums that don’t necessarily appeal much to the academic research community. But we do need trusted referees to keep everyone honest and push for a substantive conversation about technology.

  • 3 Max L. Wilson // Jul 3, 2008 at 12:18 am

    nice call daniel. i hope that one of the focal points of dicussion will be on how best to draw a line between what can be published (that provides a contribution to the community) and what needs to be kept to maintain business edge. Microsoft and Yahoo have done particularly well at defining this line, contributing many things to the academic world.

  • 4 Daniel Tunkelang // Jul 9, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Just wanted to let folks here know that I did get responses from a few folks in the analyst community, as well as one of my peers at a major enterprise search company. I recognize and respect that not everyone feels comfortable participating in a public conversation.

    So let me summarize the points of contention in the discussion thus far:

    – Are academic conferences are the right forums, as opposed to vendor user conferences or some other forum?

    – Do CTOs and CIOs, who focus on applications rather than theory, have common ground with the academic research community?

    I’ve expressed my strong feelings in favor of some kind of vendor-neutral forum and explained my partiality to academia.

    In answer to the second concern, I think that many academics do care a lot about applications, both out of a desire to have real-world impact and to justify funding.

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