Thursday, 2 October 2008

I want Google-like search in my company… well, you can’t have it!

I was reading a requirements document the other day and the old “we want Google-like search” raised it head again.

I’m not sure why we need to keep saying this, but it is generally accepted in the information management community that a Google-like search is neither desirable nor achievable in a complex enterprise environment.

Anyone that claims they can implement a Google-like search is setting unrealistic expectations (unless of course we’re talking about a very progressive Enterprise 2.0 organisation).

BTW This is a distinct argument from the questioning the suitability of Google’s search appliances – in my experience where I have seen them fail in practice its due to the implementation approach and an expectation of “plug and play”, rather than the technology itself.

Or am I wrong?


  1. I disagree with you on this one. I feel that saying "Google-like search within an enterprise is not achievable" is more an excuse for not being able to solve the enterprise search issue. I admit it is not easy, but before GMail (as an example) rich internet applications were seen as very difficult and required Java or ActiveX.

    But I firmly believe enterprise search needs to move more towards a google-like environment so we can leverage to true value of the knowledge within the enterprise. Yes security is an issue, but there is no reason why this cannot be resolved.

    Or am I missing the point?

  2. James -

    I think there are some search companies that are getting closer to the Google-like search. We are closely watching Vivisimo's velocity search tool. They have a simple text box and good results.

    The search results are more amazon-like, giving you faceted searching and the ability to see user ratings of the items.

    People want Google-like. I think what they want is a simple interface for searching (easy to do). And relevant search results (harder to do).

    I believe the faceted navigation of search results, semantic clustering of results and the rating system for search items offers a great deal of hope in delivering good search results.

  3. @mspecht and @Doug Cornelius
    Even with improvements to the underlying technology, its as much a factor of the attributes of the different types and origins of the data and content being searched and the implementation and on going management process that goes with that territory, as it is about the UI. Getting the right results in that environment is harder to do but not impossible if you approach the problem with the right expectations.

  4. Alex Manchester (Step Two Designs)10:21 am

    Yes, heard this a lot recently!

    From what I've seen, this desire for "Google-like search" - I'm not convinced it's really an interface thing but perhaps simply because in lots of places the search function is completely broken (and orgs are using the bundled CMS search app which is useless).

    Remember before Google came along on the net? The internet was usable, but didn't really work (Hotbot, Alta Vista – all pretty awful 10 years ago).

    Arguably, Google fixed the problem simply by making information findable.

    Is it this basic ambition that people are alluding to when they say they want Google-like search in business? I.e., "just give me the right flippin' information!"

    My colleague Rebecca Rodgers advocates the approach of tuning search results with synonyms, best bets etc. All these things can return more Google-like results, regardless of the serch app in question.

    As for Google appliances, I've heard a recent example where there was a 96% user approval rate using Google Mini compared to the existing app, and the right Information at the top of the page or within top 6 search hits etc. A massive success, in other words.

    As you say, James, it's not usually a case of plug and play, but the Google appliances can work with some tweaking (if you see what I mean).

  5. @alex manchester
    I agree completely. With the examples of Google appliances I gave, we saw in those organisations that there were underlying data governance issues that prevented it from working before even getting to the configuration step!

  6. As Alex points out, Google found a better way to index and search the internet. It is obviously not perfect.

    The problem with the google-like search inside the enterprise is ranking the results and pushing the most relevant content to the top. I think faceted searching is a key tool to help narrow the results.

    The other key is getting the underlying repository systems to hold their content and make metadata available to help highlight the better content.

    I agree that there are lots of hurdles, but the goal is getting closer.

  7. I want a google-like search! By google-like search that I mean:
    1)Something that's easy to use(UI component obviously);
    2)Something that's holistic; and 3)Something that finds the right information as Alex pointed out.

    Most of these points have been discussed but here's my view regardless.

    When I jump on google and search for something I get results from all over the place because data resides in different sources (different websites). I could search each of those sources (websites) individually for information but that would just be tedious.

    If you think of enterprise information sources you have: my personal PC, fileshares, portal, wiki, old lotus notes databases, document management systems, etc. BUT they all have their own search tools. This is what I meant by holistic.

    Lastly finding the right information - well from my understanding (correct me if i'm wrong) google ranks your search based on user visits to a site, where user high user visits implies that the site is actually useful. Can't the same principle be applied to documents, or data sources in the enterprise? Rather than just keyword, if there's a document that a lot of people use or have looked at AND it has the keyword / meaning of what I want shouldn't that be displayed first?

    How long do you think we are off from getting this?

    In the mean time if I'm looking for anything within the enterprise, I start by looking outside. I've found that our sites are much better through google and often mail the external email addresses as well because I'll actually get a response *sigh*.

  8. one more thing to add. Google's search is fast, very fast. I want that in my enterprise!

  9. @vivek
    That last one is something that can be fixed now... its just a question of having the right technical architecture in place.

  10. You might want to check out an article in the Enterprise Search Sourcebook entitled Why Enterprise Search Will Never Be Google-y. I've blogged about this a fair amount at The Noisy Channel. Full-disclosure: I am the Chief Scientist of Endeca, and I do have a strong point of view on enterprise search.

  11. @daniel tunkelang
    Np. And thanks for the links - always good to hear different perspectives.


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