After the big news in the enterprise search space about Autonomy and FAST last week, the announcement of Lucid Imagination raising $6 million may seem anti-climatic. That’s nothing compared to the $775M Autonomy spent to acquire Interwoven, let along the $1.2B that Microsoft paid for FAST last year. And can Lucid Imagination really succeed as the Red Hat of enterprise search, making money by supporting open-source Lucene and Solr?
Perhaps. Lucene is certainly popular among folks looking for a free search engine. Moreover, for people who want to tinker with it, its being open source is a big plus.
But Lucene deployments require extensive customization. This is often the downside of open source, and the reason that industrial use open source software often involves a significant transfer of funds from enterprises to consultants. In contrast, closed-source solutions tend to come with more tooling, integration support, etc. Those are the sorts of details that don’t necessarily excite open-source developers but are crucial for enterprise software.
Will Lucid Imagination revolutionize the enterprise search market by providing low-cost services on top of free software? Perhaps, though I’m skeptical–and not just because they are a potential competitor to my employer. If they are to be more than a body shop, they’ll have to productize their customization efforts. But I’d imagine that, if Lucid Imagination were to build such products, it would contribute them back into the Lucene code base. That might be great for customers, but it’s not clear how it translates into a sustainable revenue model.
It’s also worth noting that Lucid Imagination isn’t the first company pursuing this model. Sematext, founded in 2007, is another company implementing solutions on top of open source software, including Lucene. In fact, its founder, Otis Gospodnetic, is a regular at The Noisy Channel. Perhaps he can comment on the space.