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.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Searching for People

Have you ever "Googled" yourself or someone you know? It's a fun exercise and can sometimes produce surprising results. Like finding an old year book picture of yourself posted on the web that you weren't aware of. Social networks such as,, and have aided in the search for people and go further by providing a way for the people to connect once they're found. But I find it astounding that enterprises with large numbers of employees don't have similar tools at their disposal.

Employees are four times as likely to turn to a colleague for answers to work questions than to corporate knowledge management systems. And nearly two-thirds think the information is generally superior - according to a survey conducted by SelectMinds, which creates corporate employee and alumni networks.

Most companies do have user directories that contain basic information about each employee such as name, phone number, email and work address, job title, etc. And these directories tend to standardize on LDAP which is a networking protocol for querying and modifying directory services running over TCP/IP. But LDAP provides a woefully inadequate search capability. You can look up a person by typing in their name IF you know how to spell it.

It gets more interesting when you dont know who you are looking for. In this case I'm looking for experts in the company who might be able to answer a particular question. In addition to a list of documents in response to my search why cant I also get a list of people who might know? And wouldn't it be neat if the list of people had a brief summary of their expertise (similar to a document summary) so I could determine whether to contact them or not? I could also see multifaceted search playing a role. Some of the facets returned might be the different groups of people who might know the answer such as news groups, wikis, or even whole departments.

This type of "expertise" search requires much more information than the basic employee attributes typically captured in LDAP. It requires the composition of an employee profile that synthesizes what the employee does and knows. The common approach to capturing this information is to just require all employees to fully describe themselves. But this is where the fallacy lies. Most people are reluctant to fully describe themselves and willing to only provide minimal data (name, address, phone...). When is the last time you updated your resume or wrote a status report of your activities? The task becomes a burdensome chore and as such suffers in quality. This may be the reason we don't see an effective "people" search in business today.


Post a Comment

<< Home