Searching for Social at Enterprise Search Summit West 2009

Nov 24, 2009

This year's Enterprise Search Summit West was a bit different than previous years; aligned closely with the co-located KMWorld program, the more streamlined conference allowed search-focused attendees to take full advantage of the three day event or to maximize their knowledge seeking across the larger KMWorld conference. Held November 17-19 in San Jose, Calif., the summit covered everything from federated and semantic search, to the topic people just can't seem to stop talking about: social search.

Enterprise Search Summit West (ESS West) and KMWorld shared keynotes, starting off with Andrew McAfee (who coined the term "Enterprise 2.0"), principal research scientist, Center for Digital Business, MIT Sloan School of Management. In his presentation "Resetting the Enterprise with 2.0 Collaborative Tools," McAfee advised company leaders to "stop obsessing about risks." He said that the benefits-which include innovation and better collaboration-far outweigh potential hazards. McAfee also tried to assuage the fears of executives who thought social tools would lead to chaos, theft, and the leaking of valuable company information. "People are, by nature, wired to help each other," McAfee said.

The truth of McAfee's assertion became evident when the first speaker on the ESS track failed to show up, and within minutes a panel of expert attendees had volunteered to discuss the topic at hand: "In-Context Content Delivery." Despite the last-minute nature of the panel, speakers Miles Kehoe, president and co-founder of New Idea Engineering, Avi Rappoport, principal consultant at Search Tools Consulting, and Walter Underwood, lead engineer at Mark Logic, came together on the fly to keep the audience with an informative Q&A discussion lead by conference chair Michelle Manafy. The morning's next presenters-Marilyn J. Chartrand, product manager, search, Internet Services Group, Kaiser Permanente and Wendi Pohs, CTO of InfoClear Consulting-stepped in early, and kept the audience's attention with a well-received case study, "Migrating a New Search Engine."

The second morning's keynote, Charlene Li, co-author of Groundswell and partner at Altimeter Group, echoed many of McAfee's thoughts in her presentation, "The Role of Social Techniques in Search & How It Impacts Your Organization." Li said that she thinks the days when we go to a website like Facebook or Twitter to "be social" will someday seem "quaint" as being social on the web becomes more like breathing-just what you do. As social features become ever more a part of the way we search on the wider web, it will become increasingly important to incorporate those features into enterprise systems, helping to create learning organizations and new workflows.

Not all of the search talk was social, though. A panel called "Is Semantic Technology Real?" which was moderated by Rob Gonzalez, platform product manager, Endeca Technologies, explored whether or not semantic technology has a meaningful place inside the enterprise. Focusing on real world examples of semantics at work, Panelist Daniela Barbosa, business development manager, Dow Jones Client Solutions, Dow Jones & Company, pointed to the example of how is using an underlying semantic foundation to better serve web customers and emphasized that there are many real world examples of semantic search in action-but that since they aren't clearly labeled "semantic" most people don't know that is what is powering their experience.

Several sessions on day two focused on interface and usability. Meta Mair, senior consultant, Information Leadership Consulting talked about "Findability: Sharepoint Information Design that Works." Like many search professionals, Mair has hears that users just want Google, but she points out that if that were true, than everyone would simply have a Google box in their organizations. Dr. Megan Macmillan, principal vonsultant, Kestral Group, followed up with "Getting the Most Out of Enterprise Search: Improving User Interfaces and Experiences." MacMillan pointed out that unlike web authors, people within an enterprise "write documents to be useful, not to be found." Subsequently, the ability to actually find stuff relies on good design.

Thursday morning's keynote--Thomas Vander Wal (who coined the term "folksonomy"), principal & senior consultant, InfoCloud Solutions, Inc.--started up the social chatter again with his talk "Enterprise Social Tools & the Knowledge Organization." He caused a stir in the crowd when he said that "All the things I'm hearing about social tools, I hear about email in the 1990s" in that customers express the same worry that enterprise social tools will leak corporate information and lead to socializing and time wasting at the expense of productivity.

Fittingly, the ESS West track ended on Thursday with "Designing for Sociality in Enterprise Search," presented by Will Evans, director of experience design, Semantic Foundry and researcher and author Brynn Evans (no relation. The duo delivered a highly conversational presentation about social interaction design, or what they call "SxD," in a truly interactive way. As a team, they explored the various stages or manifestations of social search and provided a graphic look into its potential impact in the enterprise, revealing ideas about a potential engine and how it might work; incorporating things like "friend filtered search," "social scents," and even a suggestion box that says something like "You seem to be having trouble, would you like to ask your network for help?"

Social interaction was certainly the buzzword--and the reality--for the fall Enterprise Search Summit, which-along with KMWorld-will be relocating to Washington D.C. next year. The larger New York Enterprise Search Summit event, to be held May 11 and 12, currently seeks input on the hot topics for 2010 and is now accepting speaker proposals.