The New World of Search: Closing Keynote Panel

(L-R) Stephen Arnold (Moderator), David Hawking, Chief Scientist, Funnelback Search; Andrew Kanter, COO, Autonomy, UK; Saratendu Sethi, Director, Research & Development, SAS; Jeremy Bentley, Chief Executie, Smartlogic

The conference concluded with a panel of CEOs, moderated by Stephen Arnold, President, Arnold Information Technologies, and long time expert and conference speaker, discussing at the new world of search.  Arnold listed the following 3 trends that he believes will appear in searching for 2011 and invited panel members to agree or disagree with him.

  • In 2011, Open Source (OS) search will put proprietary software companies under great pressure and will force these companies to change their businesses. Kantor disagreed, saying that OS has its place at the commodity end of the market, which is the smallest part.  Sethi also disagreed and said that SAS provides extensive “hand holding” to its customers, and this is where the value comes.  Bentley said that search has been commoditized and his organization is agnostic to the various platforms.  Search engines do not have the metadata to provide the user with a good search experience.  Finding is what people are prepared to pay for.  Hawking said that his products are developed inside the company, but the code is available for users to modify if they wish.  Searching solves peoples problems; what combination of technology will solve problems better or more often?
  • Buyers of systems are no longer talking about search; problem solving solutions will lead to survival.  Sethi responded that metadata is critical to the success of searching.  Search has become a decision engine to arrive at the solution of the problem.  End users should not need to deal with complex search semantics.  Bentley agreed with the trend provided that “solution” means “value”.  Users often use jargon different from the author of a document; work is needed to make metadata accurate.  It is extremely difficult for a machine to figure out what is in the user’s head.  Funnelback is providing an effective finding tool which is different from search.  Searching should be simply built into the problem solving system, but it is often the weak link.  Kanter said that search is a manual and inefficient process.  Engines that watch things as they happen are much more effective.  For Autonomy, search has always been part of the problem.
  • The growth of data in organizations will cause companies’ systems to fail.  Traditional vendors will not be able to handle the new types of content (Twitter posts, blogs, etc.) or the volume of content. Sethi said that faster indexing will be needed because search engines will continue to need to handle precision and recall.  Findability will be improved by improved metadata.  Technology is already available that can handle thousands of transactions a second, so this is not a problem.  SAS can process 100 to 150 Tweets a second.  Kanter said that Autonomy can index every Bloomberg terminal transaction and e-mail of a major Wall Street bank, but the problem will only get worse.  Hawking indexed 115 million websites in the .uk domain on a laptop and received good response.  However, he thinks that the problem will get better because people will weed their repositories.  Bentley said that Smartlogic was designed before social media evolved and it is built to scale to the size of a Twitter stream.
  • In 2011 and in the markets that matter, the products sold by panelists’ companies will be under great pressure because the needs of the user are not served by them.  A new group of companies will therefore emerge. Bentley said that access to information will be through devices that do not have a screen and keyboard, and therefore he disagrees with the prediction.  He thinks that enterprise semantics is the technology that we should be considering.  Hawking said that mobile devices present presentation challenges but they offer new ways of interactive.  The nature of search will not disappear, so the system behind the scenes must be amenable to new ways of searching.  Sethi said that SAS has been profitable since its founding because it has been had a visionary approach as technologies changed.  He thinks that SAS will survive because it is already actively adapting its systems for mobile devices.  Kantor said that mobile will not crush Autonomy.  The power of the devices we carry opens opportunities for new products using the new technologies now available.  They are already entering new markets using content for mobile devices.  For Funnelback, search effectiveness will be foremost.   Search has many forms in different environments.  There are many problems, which metadata often cannot solve.  The big challenge is to help people form their queries to match the data structure.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor


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