The question is, how do we make enterprise search better? Some people complain that enterprise search should behave more like Google search, which I vehemently disagree with, for one primary reason: enterprise search is a FUNDAMENTALLY different problem than internet search. Here are some examples:
The internet search problem is like this:
- Heavily linked pages, which can be analyzed for "relevance" and "importance"
- Spam is a constant problem
- People don't want you to monitor their behavior
- People obsess about their Google Page rank
- People obsess about their hit count
- People aren't looking for the answer, they are looking for an answer
The whole problem reminds me of a scene from The Zero Effect:
Now, a few words on looking for things. When you look for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad... because of all things in the world, you only want one of them. When you look for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good... because of all the things in the world, you're sure to find some of them.
Internet search is like looking for anything at all... whereas enterprise search is like looking for something specific:
- People don't want general information; they want the 100% definitive answer
- The trust level is usually higher between co-workers, than between random web surfers... or at least it should be. Otherwise, you got bigger problems than information management.
- You know exactly who is running the search
- You know exactly what department they are in, and what content they are likely to need
- You know exactly their previous search history, possibly even their favorite "tags"
- Spam is minimal, or non-existent
- Content uses few, if any, hyperlinks to help determine relevance
- People usually write content because of obligation, and do not usually care about making it easy for their audience to understand
Trying to solve both problems with the same exact tool will only lead to frustration...
Now... Solving this problem with social tools is a much easier, and arguably better approach. People usually don't want to know the answer, people usually want to know who knows the answer. This is an observation as old as Mooer's Law (1959) about information management:
“An information retrieval system will tend not to be used whenever it is more painful and troublesome for a customer to have information than for him not to have it.”
Fifty years later, and folks still don't quite seem to get it... The average user does not want to read enterprise content! They don't read documentation on the subject, nor do they read books on the subject, nor do they read blogs on the subject... In general, people don't care to actually learn anything new; they just want the quick answer that lets them move on and get back to their normal job. Most people look for information so they can perform some kind of task, and then they'll be more than happy to forget that information afterward. Its a rare individual who learns for the sake of knowledge... These folks are sometimes called Mavens, and everybody wants to be connected with these Mavens so they can do their jobs better. As a result, these Mavens will always be overwhelmed with phone calls, emails, and meeting invites.
As those mediums became flooded, some of your resources fled to other places -- like Twitter, or Facebook, or enterprise social software -- and forced would-be connectors to follow. This constant movement (or hiding) helps a bit... but its only a matter of time before those mediums get flooded as well, and the noise overwhelms the signal.
In order to truly solve the enterprise search problem, you need to first understand why people may choose to never use enterprise search, no matter how good it is... then try to bring them back into the fold with socially enabled enterprise search tools. Don't just help people find information; help them find somebody who understands what the information means. Connecting people with mere words can easily backfire, and might actually make these people a burden on society. Instead, connect them with real, live humans who are eager to teach the knowledge being sought. At the same time, you need to work hard to protect these Mavens, so they don't flee your system in favor of another.
This is a problem that Google's search engine cannot solve -- mainly for privacy and trust reasons -- but it is 100% solvable in the enterprise. I'm just wondering why so few have done it...