Conversation with Seth Grimes

I had an great conversation with Intelligent Enterprise columnist Seth Grimes today. Apparently there’s an upside to writing critical commentary on Google’s aspirations in the enterprise!

One of the challenges in talking about enterprise search is that no one seems to agree on what it is. Indeed, as I’ve been discussing with Ryan Shaw , I use the term broadly to describe information access scenarios distinct from web search where an organization has some ownership or control of the content (in contrast to the somewhat adversarial relationship that web search companies have with the content they index). But I realize that many folks define enterprise search more narrowly to be a search box hooked up to the intranet.

Perhaps a better way to think about enterprise search is as a problem rather than solution. Many people expect a search box because they’re familiar with searching the web using Google. I don’t blame anyone for expecting that the same interface will work for enterprise information collections. Unfortunately, wishful thinking and clever advertising notwithstanding, it doesn’t.

I’ve blogged about this subject from several different perspectives over the past weeks, so I’ll refer recent readers to earlier posts on the subject rather than bore the regulars.

But I did want to mention a comment Seth made that I found particularly insightful. He defined enterprise search even more broadly than I do, suggesting that it encompassed any information seeking performed in the pursuit of enterprise-centric needs. In that context, he does see Google as the leader in enterprise search–not because of their enterprise offerings, but rather because of the web search they offer for free.

I’m not sure how I feel about his definition, but I think he raises a point that enterprise vendors often neglect. No matter how much information an enterprise controls, there will always be valuable information outside the enterprise. I find today’s APIs to that information woefully inadequate; for example, I can’t even choose a sort order through any of the web search APIs. But I am optimistic that those APIs will evolve, and that we will see “federated” information seeking that goes beyond merging ranked lists from different sources.

Indeed, I look forward to the day that web search providers take a cue from the enterprise and drop the focus on black box relevance ranking in favor of an approach that offers users control and interaction.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

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