Enterprise Search and the Findability Gap - InformationWeek

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7/17/2008
06:44 AM
Seth Grimes
Seth Grimes
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Enterprise Search and the Findability Gap

AIIM has been bombarding me with e-mail promoting a sponsored study, "Findability: The Art and Science of Making Content Easy to Find." I do understand the distinction that "under findability, the burden of intelligent content processing is placed on the content itself." Supporting examples are easy to come by. Here are a few, inadvertently provided by a leading enterprise-search vendor.

AIIM, the Association for Information and Image Management, has been bombarding me with e-mail promoting Dan Keldsen's and Carl Frappaolo's sponsored study, Findability: The Art and Science of Making Content Easy to Find. While I wonder what "findability" offers beyond buzzword differentiation for a few search vendors, even after learning that "findability is the art and science of making content findable," I do understand the distinction that "under findability, the burden of intelligent content processing is placed on the content itself." I'm tempted to say that's hokum — in keeping with my amity for automated knowledge discovery in text, a.k.a., text analytics — except that supporting examples are easy to come by. Here are a few, inadvertently provided by a leading enterprise-search vendor.I've been catching up on my reading including an article by IDC analyst Sue Feldman in a vendor-sponsored supplement to KMWorld magazine. The text, placed in the supplement by "Vendor X," drew from a Vendor X-sponsored white paper of Sue's. (Because I'm writing about findability on the vendor's Web site and not about the vendor's technology, there's no compelling reason to use the company's real name.) Sue had a quite interesting and useful list of features and technologies that add up to "great" search. I thought I'd read her white paper, available at Vendor X's Web site. Here's where we get to findability troubles.

I was reading a paper copy of KMWorld so I had to type the white-paper URL rather than just click a link. I'm lazy: I didn't type the protocol prefix (http://) or the often-redundant www. Findability strike 1: Vendor X's Web server redirected me to the site's welcome page.

Rather than toddle off to the room where I had left the magazine, I thought I'd see if I could just find the white paper. (That Vendor X's Web server wasn't configured to simply assume the omitted www. hadn't occurred to me.) Hmmm, there was a KnowledgeBase item under Support on the welcome page's menu bar. I tried that item. Vendor X listed 19 links under Essentials. (Learning about the ODBC Connector and What's New from [version d] to [version h] is essential?) A total of 73 documents were linked from that page, not including Sue's white paper.

Sue's white paper was actually listed a Resource under the Vendor X menu-bar Solutions item, but I didn't discover that until just now. This mis-location, and that individual items in the overloaded KnowledgeBase lack visibility, lend support to my long-time claim, Reliance on search typically indicates a failure of design. Strike 2.

Vendor X is a search company so I tried the Search box that sits near the top of page on the company's Web site. I searched on feldman. Now don't forget that I'm lazy. I chose the second result presented, titled "Vendor X – Feldman White Paper," because it jumped out as just what I was looking for. Would you do differently? The link took me to a registration form with no on-page indication that I was registering to read the white paper I was looking for. Now I'm not going to register if I'm not sure I'm in the right place so Back button time. And in fact, the first search result linked me to a press release with a clearly indicated link to Sue's paper.

There's a lesson here. Some things really shouldn't be findable in a search, especially by lazy users like me. Boost search-findability of what you want found by not indexing pages that shouldn't be reached via search. Not strike 3: a foul tip, Vendor X gets another shot.

It so happens that I noticed, when I returned to the feldman search-results page, a strange document summary under that first link I clicked. Verbatim,

Board of Directors ... Fill the following form to access the requested content. ... Privacy guarantee: Any personal information you provide will remain strictly ...
Ugly. I looked at the source of the registration-form page, which Vendor X had allowed to be indexed. I found
< meta name="description" content="" />
Hint: There are well established ways to make your content findable. Proper use of Meta tags is one of them. For Vendor X, a called 3rd strike.

Sue Feldman says "Vendor X proves that excellent search and navigation can be affordable and easy to implement." Sue has a lot of credibility in my book so I'm confident Vendor X has strong technology despite my VendorX.com experience. But my odyssey related here nonetheless shows that Findability is a real concern. Read Dan Keldsen's and Carl Frappaolo's study for a comprehensive analysis, or just jump to the bottom line, that it takes more than Search technology to achieve findability.AIIM has been bombarding me with e-mail promoting a sponsored study, "Findability: The Art and Science of Making Content Easy to Find." I do understand the distinction that "under findability, the burden of intelligent content processing is placed on the content itself." Supporting examples are easy to come by. Here are a few, inadvertently provided by a leading enterprise-search vendor.

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