As long-time readers know, one of my recurring themes is that there is a world of difference between web search and enterprise search–at least as those concepts are understood today. The other day, I had a conversation with my friend Carl Eklof, and we arrived at an aspect of that difference that I have at best understated in the past. Let me try to elaborate it now.
In web search, the immediate results for a query are pages on web sites. But these pages aren’t necessarily “documents”. In fact, the most popular web sites are portals or destinations, designed to help a user shop, research specialized information, communicate with other people, etc. When a web search takes a user to a page on such a site, the site (if it is well designed) takes on the responsibility for contextualizing the user’s experience.
In contrast, enterprise content often consists of a heterogeneous collection of content whose organization is at best implicit in its physical and logical arrangement. Departments within an enterprise may build user-centered portals, but it’s rare to see the sort of symbiosis that occurs between web search engines and the sites they index.
As a result, one of the challenges of an enterprise search application is that it must deliver a holistic user experience that compensates for the lack of effort on the part of the documents it indexes. Users still need context and guidance, but now the responsibility falls almost entirely on the search engine to deliver it.
Admittedly this picture is oversimplified. I don’t even like the term “enterprise search” because it’s often construed so narrowly. But I realize that many folks struggle with the idea that finding information within a proprietary document collection could be harder than doing so on the web. I hope this explanation helps shed some light.