Magazine article Information Today

The Year of the Leopard: Search Changes Its Spots

Magazine article Information Today

The Year of the Leopard: Search Changes Its Spots

Article excerpt

In 4Q 2011, I overcame my reluctance to attend traditional conferences. In the span of a fortnight, I participated in a social media conference, a text-processing conference, and (no oxymoronic comment, please) a government-intelligence program.

I jotted down some quotes from speakers and panelists from the conferences. Here is a representative selection:

On enterprise search: "We have shifted from keyword search to discovery. New search methods will surface and expose what a system's users need to know."

--Metatagging technology vendor

On indexing: "Human indexing cannot keep pace with the flow of documents. Semantic technology will make it possible to perform indexing on content ranging from traditional Word and PowerPoint documents to social content from Facebook and Twitter."

--Social media expert

On social media: "Traditional search systems do not tap into the knowledge and insights of co-workers. In the future, search will mean that colleagues within the organization will provide a larger part of the information a person needs to answer a business question."

--Consultant in predictive analytics

On rich media: "Text is becoming less important in many organizations. The future includes text but there will be more information available in video than in text-based documents."

--Enterprise cloud storage vendor


You get the idea. The notion of humans indexing text is yielding to systems and methods that use algorithms and semantics to address problems in information retrieval. Of course, the problems have been with us since humans mastered the written word.

Enter Big Data

Now we have entered the era of Big Data. The idea is that there is so much information in digital form that manual methods are inappropriate by necessity. With more data flowing into an organization with geo-coordinates, via digital images, often cryptic short messages, and email with attachments, we have to "think different" in Steve Jobs' language.

In 2012, there are already indications of what "think different" will mean in the world of enterprise search and content processing. Enterprise search is following in the footsteps of Bing, Facebook, and Google. Each of these companies is morphing into "findability portals." Instead of offering a traditional portal, these companies put a range of functions related to locating information before users. A large part of each of these services is tapping into what humans know. The shift from keyword queries to seeing generated lists of what is "hot," flows of information from friends and acquaintances, and automated updates that flash a stream of information is changing how web search works. In part, the shift is related to the need to accommodate users who need information when using a mobile device. However, another reason is that the newer methods of showing and updating are the equivalent of fast food: quick, easy, and efficient.

However, the shift is not moving as quickly or as smoothly in the organization. In 2012, the language used to explain what is required to let an employee locate information is likely to shift. I think the phrase "enterprise search" will be kicked to the curb. What will take its place?

On a high level, there are two terminology shifts that are about search, content processing, and information retrieval. But the language is more highly suggestive. First, consider the word "governance." In my opinion, the term is a synonym for "editorial policy." An organization with digital content is basically up a creek without a functional paddle. The content in most organizations does not conform to a format or set of formats. The people creating content do not either index their documents or apply consistent terminology within and to the documents. Recently in Cleveland, one professional at a large publishing company referred to a presentation and another person referenced the document as a PowerPoint. …

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