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Enterprise Search Hype: An Example

January 5th, 2009 · 6 Comments · General

I was going through my alerts this morning for enterprise search and found this nugget in an interview with an enterprise search executive (the interview is easy to find on the web):

What is the basis of your firm’s technical approach?

XXX provides a highly scalable and manageable information access platform built on open standards. XXX transforms raw data, whatever its nature, into actionable intelligence through best of breed indexing, extraction and classification technologies.

The term “information access platform” has become standard enough, but it tells us nothing about the company’s technical approach. “Highly scalable and manageable”? Again, these are neither specific nor informative about the approach. In fact, the only thing we learn about the company’s technical approach is that it uses open standards, and we don’t even hear which ones. And perhaps it is unfair to single out this company, since I’ve seen similar content-free descriptions across the industry.

But compare that to how I answered Ron Miller in a recent one-on-one:

What is the differentiator for Endeca search?

Endeca combines a set-oriented retrieval approach with user interaction to create an interactive dialogue, offering next steps or refinements to help guide users to the results most relevant for their unique needs. An Endeca-powered application responds to a query with not just relevant results, but with an overview of the user’s current context and an organized set of options for incremental exploration.

I’m not claiming that my answer is complete–it is hard to go deep in a short interview. But I at least tried to explain *what* Endeca does, rather than just concatenate buzz words. A litmus test is that you could not pick another enteprise search vendor name out of a hat and substitute it into that paragraph.

As I posted the other day, the enterprise search market is beset by marketing and hype. There are lots of folks to blame for this set of affairs, but we who are selling enterprise search technology have a particular responsiblity for emphasizing reality over hype. Let’s keep it real.

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Joe Mako // Jan 5, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Your short explanation of what Endeca does, reminds of how Juice Analytics describes the 5 Phases of Data Analytics Maturation, where they say “Good information tools are just like an experienced safari guide.” Do you think there are similar phases for enterprise search?

  • 2 Daniel Tunkelang // Jan 5, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    There’s a lot of work on different kinds of information seeking behavior in the library and information science literature. I think that this research is highly applicable to enterprise search, or at least should inform how we build and apply enterprise search technology.

    For example:

    http://library.humboldt.edu/~ccm/fingertips/kuhlthau.html

  • 3 Bob Carpenter // Jan 5, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    It’s not unfair to single out one company. Just about any provider of information access software is good for something similar:

    The information in your existing systems could be worth far more to your business. XXX’s unique technology lets anyone explore and analyze this information, unlocking its value.

    Other technologies like search, business intelligence, and databases just weren’t designed for the types of exploration that lead to this value. XXX’s information access software has a purpose-built architecture that makes it straightforward for you to succeed and eliminates many of the challenges and risks associated with these earlier technologies.

  • 4 Daniel Tunkelang // Jan 5, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Touché. If it were my call, we (Endeca) would have a bit less spin on our front page. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t have any authority over our marketing department. That said, the site does go into a lot more detail than that description, if you click through the links beyond that front page.

    But it’s still apples and oranges. It’s hard to pick what to put on a home page to address the broad set of people who arrive there. It shouldn’t be hard to answer a question like “What is the basis of your firm’s technical approach?” with more than buzzwords, and I offered my own example as demonstrative.

  • 5 Daniel Lemire // Jan 5, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    This is just the age-old tension between engineering and marketing. If you read Dilbert, you already know all about it.

    Back when I was a consultant, I had clients who sold things I would presumably do, before they spoke to me.

    It is mostly harmless because nobody reads these interviews.

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    [...] amount of conference spam” in the enterprise search space. Sharing his frustration with the marketing and hype that passes for technical discussion in this field, I posted a comment extolling the upcoming SIGIR [...]

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