This blog is dedicated to the in-depth review, analysis and discussion of technologies related to the search and discovery of information. This blog represents my views only and does not reflect those of my employer, IBM.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Search for Dummies

No, I don't mean searching for people, a topic I addressed in my last post. I'm referring to the wonderfully intuitive approach John Wiley & Sons, Inc. take to presenting complex ideas and topics. My question is: Why can't search be made as easy in a similar way?

I also don't mean search as experienced by the end user. Even my mom has now mastered search, knowing what to expect when she types a few words into that little white search box. I'm referring to the behind the scenes processing that makes all of that magic happen. It is the administrators of search that bare the entire burden.

It is estimated that Google, for example, maintains 450,000 servers, arranged in racks located in cities around the world. For public search engines like Google this complexity is a part of doing business. Whether it is complex or made easy is irrelevant since their customers never experience the pain. It's like buying a preassembled bicycle. You don't care how difficult or long it took to put it together as long as it was done right. But you do care when you need to assemble it yourself.

The same is true for enterprises that want to deploy their own search engine. The ease at which the company can install and maintain the engine becomes extremely important. The parts involved are many. There are the crawlers that extract information from the various document repositories. There are the parsers that decipher and transform the information into an indexable form. There is the indexer that builds the search catalog. And lastly there is the search runtime that ultimately enables users to search the catalog. Each of these parts have their own inherent complexities which makes it difficult to assemble them into a coherent and easy to use package.

But that is just what IBM is trying to do. IBM recognizes that search is more than developing the best algorithms for producing relevant search results. An effective search engine must take into account the total cost of ownership and that includes ease of use. The easier a search product is to use, the less time a search administrator has to spend maintaining it, and that means time gained to be doing something else. IBM has been aggressively pursuing this ease-of-use doctrine which you can expect to experience in its next release of search products.

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