I learned about Grokker, a really neat information visualization tool, in the first talk of Track A (Information Discovery and Search). Christy Higgins of the Sun Microsystems Library started off by describing how they are using Grokker to deliver information to Sun’s engineers, and then R.J. Pittman, CEO of Groxis, the company that produces Grokker, followed up with a demonstration showing how Grokker works and what it can do.
Knowledge workers at Sun are typical in that they spend about a third of their time not finding what they are looking for. To help alleviate this problem, the library is using Grokker to present search results visually, which has resulted in a significant time savings for their staff. Grokker is used to link to fee-based content from well-known databases (EBSCOhost, the ACM Digital Library, IEEE’s Electronic Library, etc.). The metadata from these databases is normalized by Grokker, which then prepares “maps” to the information. The user can click on groupings on the maps to zoom in, and at the lowest level, clicking on an article brings up a parallel window with the record from the database. For further information on Sun’s implementation of Grokker, click here.
Sun has had good success with Grokker. Engineers are visual learners and are making widespread use of the system. Eleven additional groups have asked the library how to use Grokker to access their internal project information, and the library has been given additional funding to help develop more applications—a sign of its success.
Higgins cautioned the audience to be careful what you wish for; the system can generate considerable excitement, and people will want more—much more. She also noted that it is important to train the staff well so that they can cope with the inevitable flood of questions that will arise. Internal partnerships are critical to the success of a project such as Sun’s.
Pittman regards Grokker as a research platform rather than a search engine. It clusters documents and categorizes them on the fly to make sure that users get the information they are looking for. In about 10 days, a new release will feature a refined user interface, the ability to blend data from many sources into a single map, and allow the user to control some of the metadata filters to produce more accurate search results. Users will also be able to choose different visualization schemes (tree views, maps, etc.).
The Grokker platform and Sun’s application of it are very cool. I plan to investigate Grokker further, just for my own searching. But its true power shines in an enterprise environment with multiple information sources. Check it out.
Columnist, Information Today