Enterprise Search Stuffed up with GIS

When I browsed through marketing brochures of GIS (Geographic Information System) vendors I noticed that the message is quite similar to search analytics. It refers in general to integration of various separate sources into analysis based on geo-visualizations. I have recently seen quite nice and powerful combination of enterprise search and GIS technologies and so I would like to describe it a little bit. Let us start from the basic things.

Search result visualization

It is quite obvious to use a map instead of simple list of results to visualize what was returned for an entered query. This technique is frequently used for plenty of online search applications especially in directory services like yellow pages or real estate web sites. The list of things that are required to do this is pretty short:

– geoloalization of items  – it means to assign accurate geo coordinates to location names, addresses, zip codes or whatever expected to be shown in the map; geo localization services are given more less for free by Google or Bing maps.

– backgroud map – this is necessity and also given by Google or Bing; there are also plenty of vendors for more specialized mapping applications

– returned results with geo-coordinates  as metadata – to put them in the map

Normally this kind of basic GIS visualisation delivers basic map operations like zooming, panning, different views and additionally some more data like traffic, parks, shops etc. Results are usually pins [Bing] or drops [Google].

Querying / filtering with the map

The step further of integration between search and GIS would be utilizing the map as a tool for definition of search query. One way is to create area of interest that could be drawn in the map as circle, rectangle or polygon. In simple way it could be just the current window view on the map as the area of query. In such an approach full text query is refined to include only results belonging to area defined.

Apart from map all other query refinement tools should be available as well, like date-time sliders or any kind of navigation and fielded queries.

Simple geo-spatial analysis

Sometimes it is important to sort query results by distance from a reference point in order to see all the nearest Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood.  I would also categorize as simple geo-spatial analysis grouping of search result into a GIS layers like e.g. density heatmap, hot spots using geographical and other information stored in results metadata etc.

Advanced geo-spatial analysis

More advance query definition and refinement would involve geo-spatial computations. Basing on real needs it could be possible for example to refine search results by an area of sight line from a picked reference point or select filtering areas like those inside specific borders of cities, districts, countries etc.

So the idea is to use relevant output from advanced GIS analysis as an input for query refinement. In this way all the power of GIS can be used to get to the unstructured data through a search process.

What kind of applications do you think could get advantage of search stuffed with really advanced GIS? Looking forward to your comments on this post.

Gartner and the Magic Quadrants – Crowning the Leaders of Enterprise Search

For years Gartner, the research and advisory company, has been publishing their magic quadrants – and their verdict of everything from ECM-systems to Data Warehouse and E-commerce plays a big role in many company’s decision to choose the right tools.
Simply put, the vendors are presented in a matrix measuring the different players by ability to execute (product, overall viability, customer experience etc.) and the completeness of their vision (offering strategy, innovation etc.). The vendors are then positioned as niche players (a rather crowded spot), visionaries, challengers and leaders.

At the end of last year Gartner decided to retire their old “Information Access Quadrant” (Enterprise Search Quadrant) and introduce “Enterprise Search MarketScope” due to a more mature market. A number of vendors (such as Vivisimo and Recommind) were removed, in order to exclude those whose businesses were not entirely search driven.

The evaluation criteria’s for MarketScope cover: offering (product) strategy, Innovation, Overall viability (business unit, financial, strategy, and organization), Customer experience, Market understanding and business model.

To summarize: the criteria’s are to a large extent the same, but the two areas “overall viability” and “customer experience” are weighted higher than the rest. This is most likely a result of the last years discussion around user friendly interfaces, easier administration and the fact that some customers have suffered quite bad when vendors do not survive (one example in Northen Europe is the Danish vendor that went bankrupted for some time)

The yearly fight between the three leaders; Microsoft, Endeca and Autonomy has been somewhat disrupted and Microsoft, Endeca and Google are now seen as the leaders.
Microsoft has got a very broad product line, which stretches from low-price and less functionality to Enterprise Search built on the former FAST technology. Endeca follow the same trend, as Gartner puts it their “products (are) intended to serve organizations seeking to develop general search installations..(..) broadly applicable for a variety of different search challenges”.

In the old quadrant, Google remained a “challenger” for quite some time – but never made it to the “leaders” corner. Ease of administration and “user friendly” are two words that keeps being repeated. That, in combination with a profit of $ 7290000000 during the last quarter of 2010 makes Google a player that easily can continue to develop their Enterprise business.

Gartner’s MarketScope for Enterprise Search

Autonomy should still not be disregarded, the main reason for it falling a bit behind the three others seem to be conquerable problems with support and pricing transparency. It will be interesting to see how Autonomy chooses to handle these issues during 2011.

To put it short: the new MarketScope is good reading with quite few surprises. If you wish to get a better understanding of the development going on at the different vendors, start with Gartner and continue to search among our blog posts.

Findability Blog: Wrapping up the 2010 posts

Christmas is finally here and at Findwise we are taking a few days off to spend time with family and friends.

During 2010 we’ve delivered more than 25 successful projects, arranged breakfast seminars to talk about customer solutions (based on Microsoft, IBM, Autonomy and Open source), meet-ups in a number of cities as well as networking meetings for profound Findability discussions and moving in parties for our new offices.

At our Findability blog we have been discussing technology and vendor solutions (Microsoft and FAST, Autonomy, IBM, Google and open source), researchconferences, customized solutions and how to find a balance between technology and people.

Some of our posts have resulted in discussions, both on our own blog and in other forums. Please get involved in some of the previous ongoing discussions on “Solr Processing Pipeline”,  “Search and Business Intelligence” or “If a piece of content is never read, does it exist?”  if you have thoughts to share.

Findability blog is taking a break and we will be back with new posts is January.

If you have some spare time during the vacation some of customers run their own blogs, and good reading tips within Findability are the blogs driven by Kristian Norling (VGR) and Alexandra Larsson (Swedish armed forces).

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

Google Instant – Can a Search Engine Predict What We Want?

On September 8th Google released a new feature for their search engine: Google instant.
If you haven’t seen it yet, there is an introduction on Youtube that is worth spending 1:41 minutes on.

Simply put, Google instant is a new way of displaying results and helping users find information faster. As you type, results will be presented in the background. In most cases it is enough to write two or three characters and the results you expect are already right in front of you.

Google instant

The Swedish site Prisjakt has been using this for years, helping the users to get a better precision in their searches.

At Google you have previously been guided by “query suggestion” i.e. you got suggestions of what others have searched for before – a function also used by other search engines such as Bing (called Type Ahead). Google instant is taking it one step further.

When looking at what the blog community has to say about the new feature it seems to split the users in two groups; you either hate it or love it.

So, what are the consequences? From an end-user perspective we will most likely stop typing if something interesting appears that draws our attention. The result?
The search results shown at the very top will generate more traffic , it will be more personalized over time and we will most probably be better at phrasing our queries better.

From an advertising perspective, this will most likely affect the way people work with search engine optimization. Some experts, like Steve Rubel, claims Google instant will make SEO irrelevant, wheas others, like Matt Cutts think it will change people behavior in a positive way over time  and explains why.

What Google is doing is something that they constantly do: change the way we consume information. So what is the next step?

CNN summarizes what the Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google says:

“The next step of search is doing this automatically. When I walk down the street, I want my smartphone to be doing searches constantly: ‘Did you know … ?’ ‘Did you know … ?’ ‘Did you know … ?’ ‘Did you know … ?’ ”

Schmidt said at the IFA consumer electronics event in Berlin, Germany, this week.

“This notion of autonomous search — to tell me things I didn’t know but am probably interested in — is the next great stage, in my view, of search.”

Do you agree? Can we predict what the users want from search? Is this the sort of functionality that we want to use on the web and behind the firewall?

Search in SharePoint 2010

This week there has been a lot of buzz about Microsoft’s launch of SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010. Since SharePoint 2007 has been the quickest growing server product in the history of Microsoft, the expectations on SharePoint 2010 are tremendous. And also great expectations for search in Sharepoint 2010

Apart from a great deal of possibilities when it comes to content creation, collaboration and networking, easy business intelligence etc. the launch also holds another promise: that of even better capabilities for search in Sharepoint 2010 (with the integration of FAST).

Since Microsoft acquired FAST in 2008, there have been a lot of speculations about what the future SharePoint versions may include in terms of search. And since Microsoft announced that they will drop their Linux and UNIX versions in order to focus on higher innovation speed, Microsoft customer are expecting something more than the regular. In an early phase it was also clear that Microsoft is eager to take market shares from the growing market in internet business.

So, simply put, the solutions that Microsoft now provide in terms of search is solutions for Business productivity (where the truly sophisticated search capabilities are available if you have Enterprise CAL-licenses, i.e. you pay for the number of users you have) and Internet Sites (where the pricing is based on the number of servers). These can then be used in a number of scenarios, all dependent on the business and end-user needs.
Microsoft has chosen to describe it like this:

  • Foundation” is, briefly put, basic SharePoint search (Site Search).
  • Standard” adds collaboration features to the “Foundation” edition and allows it to tie into repositories outside of SharePoint.
  • Enterprise ” adds a number of capabilities, previously only available through FAST licenses, such as contextual search (recognition of departments, names, geographies etc), ability to tag meta data to unstructured content, more scalability etc.

I’m not going to go into detail, rather just conclude that the more Microsoft technology the company or organization already use, the more benefits it will gain from investing in SharePoint search capabilities.

And just to be clear:  non-SharePoint versions (stand-alone) of FAST are still available, even though they are not promoted as intense as the SharePoint ones.

Apart from Microsoft’s overview above, Microsoft Technet provides a more deepdrawing description of the features and functionality from both an end-user and administrator point of view.

We look forward describing the features and functions in more detail in our upcoming customer cases. If you have any questions to our SharePoint or FAST search specialist, don’t hesitate to post them here on the blog. We’ll make sure you get all the answers.

FAST goes Microsoft for Real – Drops Linux and UNIX Versions

“Innovation is at the heart of our enterprise search strategy, and a commitment to innovation is what brought FAST and Microsoft together.”

says Bjørn Olstad, Microsoft Distinguished Engineer, in his blog post published this Thursday. And further more

“As a part of that planning process, we have decided that in order to deliver more innovation per release in the future, the 2010 products will be the last to include a search core that runs on Linux and UNIX.”

The decision to do so is hardly a surprise to those who have been following FASTs development since the acquisition in 2008. Microsoft was last year ranked as no 1 in Gartner’s ‘Magic Quadrant’ for Information Access, an expression for the company’s single-mindedness struggle to remain the customers’ first choice when it comes to information retrieval. A strong focus and fast innovation is essential to keep this position.

Bjørn Olstad blog post holds a promise for non-Windows customers saying

“We will always interoperate with non-Windows systems on both the front- and back-end. Our search solutions will crawl and index content stored on Windows, Linux, and UNIX systems, and our UI controls will work with UI frameworks running on any operating system”

Even so, the decision states a new era and it will be interesting to follow the development. A lot of the larger companies worldwide already have a Microsoft strategy, and this might even be an opportunity to switch towards FAST. For others Björn Olstads blog post is also giving a hint about cloud-support, where a hosted solution might solve headaches.

However, the most interesting statement is the accalerated speed of innovation. Even though the last Magic Quadrant stated Microsoft as a clear leader, others are following right behind and established vendors such as Autonomy as well as new players such as Lucid Imagination are responding to Microsofts offerings with new and innovative solutions. We will continue to report about this and Microsofts roadmap, so visit us from time to time to stay updated.

Roadmap FAST Search for Sharepoint and Internet Business

In view of the fact that it has been a year since Microsoft acquired FAST search, there has been a lot of hush-hush about the Enterprise search roadmap. However, at the yearly FAST forward conference, Microsoft’s press release Microsoft Unveils New Enterprise Search Road Map reached the public.

There are no big surprises, but a lot of interesting details to come. Briefly speaking Microsoft is focusing on two areas: search to enhance business productivity and search to earn money online.

Sharepoint and FAST ESP

Here at Findwise we have been working with customers integrating SharePoint and FAST ESP for some time, and ESP certainly adds a lot of value by extending SharePoint’s main strengths: content management and collaboration. Office 14, which will probably see the light early next year, will hopefully add more flexibility to their infrastructure solutions out of the box.

More information about the licensing models are yet to come and even though FAST search will continue to develop ESP as a standalone (to run on both Unix and Linux), the roadmap ties existing and potential Microsoft customers closer by presenting search as an integrated part of their business productivity offering.

As for FAST Search Internet Business Microsoft’s target group are companies looking for earning money online. During FAST forward 2007 there was a lot of talk about the future search driven portals and during the 2008 event about the ability to understanding user intent.

Today online consumers have higher expectations when it comes to search and the ability to show related information (such as Amazon’s “people that bought this product also bought”..) as well as showing contextual advertising (related to search terms, geographical location etc) and recommendations will create loyal customers. FAST search has quite a few customers using search for strategic online business so one should keep an eye on the release of the new beta version during 2009.

If you read Swedish, Helge Legernes, one of the founders of Findwise is giving his comment in Computer Sweden.

Autonomy Extends its Business Model with Compliance

On January 22:nd, Interwoven entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired by Autonomy, for a total transaction value of approximately $775 million.

Ever since Microsoft’s acquisition of FAST there have been quite a few discussions in blogs and forums whether any of the giants such as Oracle, IBM or even Google would make an attractive offer for Autonomy. The company has, during the last few years, always been a clear leading candidate within Enterprise Search and its range of offerings within Multimedia, Digital Asset Management and Information management solutions has made the customer base grow faster than ever.

However, the acquisition of Interwoven shows that Autonomy is serious when it comes to growing on its own premises. The product portfolio now contains a strong offering for legal and compliance and Autonomy has, once more, proven that they prefer to extend and strengthen their business model.

According to the press release the companies ‘share a vision to fundamentally change the way organizations discover, analyze and manage information’.

Beyond the buzzwords, there seems to be a clear vision and it will be interesting to see how this affects Enterprise Search in general and Autonomys future direction in particular.

Information Discovery: Search-in-page

Sometimes the users know exactly what they are looking for, sometimes they are just looking to discover new areas. When it comes to information discovery, a plain, one dimensional result list is not the most suitable tool.

Worldwide you’ll find quite a few innovative solutions, some of them mentioned in Findwise’s blog earlier: Quintura and KartOO are two search engines that visualize the clusters of results and the relationships between them, as Clusty that let you discover related topics.  Other examples are projects like Zuula and Dogpile that aggregates results and let you know what you can find in Google, Yahoo, Live, Exalead etc from one single search box – hopefully helping you find new perspectives.

In a few days time Searchinpage, created by entrepreneurs in Sweden, will be available.
Searchinpage let you use any word in the result, mark it and use it as input for a new query. By enabling the users to search instantly, this will hopefully create other ways to explore and discover areas related to your initial query. Searchinpage will be available in a public version and as a special solution for enterprises and organizations with specific needs. The new player seems to have a lot of cards up their sleeves (including linguistic functionality and ideas similar to Zuula and Dogpile) – worth keeping an eye on.