Reprising the Enterprise Search Summit

‘Tis the season of search conferences, at least for me, and I spent the last couple of days attending the Enterprise Search Summit in New York. I enjoyed it immensely–it’s one of the better networking events in the industry. It was great to catch up with analysts, consultants, information architects, and even competitors–or, as Nate put it, “respected foes”. I’m grateful to Michelle Manafy for putting it all together, and to Will Evans for getting me included on a social search panel.

I found the informal conversations and the final discussion session to be the most valuable activities during the two days. But I also appreciated a number of the presentations, particularly Jared Spool‘s keynote on “Search, Scent, and the Happiness of Pursuit”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found a few of the talks disappointingly shallow or salesy. I wish that more vendors and consultants realized that people expect substance from a 45-minute talk, and that the best sales pitch is to deliver that substance. I’m determined to see that all the talks at the SIGIR ’09 Industry Track are substantive; I hope I’ve recruited a line-up that will deliver!

One thing I also liked about the conference is that that the various participating vendors (and there were a lot of us!) were very collegial. There was, however, an exception that I feel compelled to point out. An article on sums it up: “Google Talks Enterprise Search, Bashes Microsoft“, in which Nitin Mangtani, lead product manager for Google enterprise search, said:

One way of doing enterprise search would be to start something in 2001 that didn’t work. You could then do a complete overhaul in 2003, which also didn’t work. In 2007, you could launch a rip-and-replace system and then … you could acquire a large, random, non-integrated system. I’m not going to name any specific company.

I thought that was catty, especially since the reference was obvious to an audience of enterprise search professionals. Moreover, Mangtani’s characterization of the enterprise search space was, to put it diplomatically, interesting. He described Google’s approach to enterprise search as being distinctive because of their attention to structured and semi-structured data. If you’re familiar with both Google‘s and Endeca‘s offerings (or FAST‘s for that matter), I think you’ll share my surprise at this particular characterization. I don’t want to commit the same offense I’m criticizing. I’ve had cordial exchanges with a few of the Google enterprise folks (including Mangtani), and I think Google has a respectable offering in the enterprise space. But they should be big enough (and mindful enough of Google’s corporate reputation) to treat their competitors with respect–and they might do a bit more homework on competitive analysis.

In any case, I can’t complain about Endeca’s visibility among participants and speakers. It seemed that I was hearing Endeca mentioned in every other talk attended–quite a feat considering that none of the talks were by Endeca partisans and that, until recently, Endeca’s marketing department studiously avoided using the term “enterprise search”! Even now, the official corporate positioning is that Endeca enables search applications. I understand the distinction, and in any case I probably shouldn’t use my blog to second-guess my colleagues in marketing. Still, it’s clear that many people looking for what they consider to be enterprise search want what Endeca has to offer, and I’m not one to let a vocabulary problem get in the way of selling software and meeting customers’ needs!

All in all, two days well spent, though I’m glad to get back to my blog–and to my day job. At least I get a small break before the the Text Analytics Summit on June 1-2!

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

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