Archive for the ‘Findability’ Category

Findability and Exploration:…

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Findability and Exploration: the future of search by Stijn Debrouwere.

From the introduction:

The majority of people visiting a news website don’t care about the front page. They might have reached your site from Google while searching for a very specific topic. They might just be wandering around. Or they’re visiting your site because they’re interested in one specific event that you cover. This is big. It changes the way we should think about news websites.

We need ambient findability. We need smart ways of guiding people towards the content they’d like to see — with categorization and search playing complementary goals. And we need smart ways to keep readers on our site, especially if they’re just following a link from Google or Facebook, by prickling their sense of exploration.

Pete Bell recently opined that search is the enemy of information architecture. That’s too bad, because we’re really going to need great search if we’re to beat Wikipedia at its own game: providing readers with timely information about topics they care about.

First, we need to understand a bit more about search. What is search?

A classic (2010) statement of the requirements for a “killer” app. I didn’t say “search” app because search might not be a major aspect of its success. At least if you measure success in terms of user satisfaction after using an app.

A satisfaction that comes from obtaining the content they want to see. How they got there isn’t important to them.

Big Data: Main Research/Business Challenges Ahead?

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Big Data Analytics at Thomson Reuters. Interview with Jochen L. Leidner by Roberto V. Zicari.

In case you don’t know, Jochen L. Leidner has the title: “Lead Scientist, of the London R&D at Thomson Reuters.”

Which goes a long way to explaining the importance of this Q&A exchange:

Q12 What are the main research challenges ahead? And what are the main business challenges ahead?

Jochen L. Leidner: Some of the main business challenges are the cost pressure that some of our customers face, and the increasing availability of low-cost or free-of-charge information sources, i.e. the commoditization of information. I would caution here that whereas the amount of information available for free is large, this in itself does not help you if you have a particular problem and cannot find the information that helps you solve it, either because the solution is not there despite the size, or because it is there but findability is low. Further challenges include information integration, making systems ever more adaptive, but only to the extent it is useful, or supporting better personalization. Having said this sometimes systems need to be run in a non-personalized mode (e.g. in the field of e-discovery, you need to have a certain consistency, namely that the same legal search systems retrieves the same things today and tomorrow, and to different parties.

How are you planning to address:

  1. The required information is not available in the system. A semantic 404 as it were. To distinguish the case of its there but wrong search terms in use.
  2. Low findability.
  3. Information integration (not normalization)
  4. System adaptability/personalization, but to users and not developers.
  5. Search consistency, same result tomorrow as today.


The rest of the interview is more than worth your time.

I singled out the research/business challenges as a possible map forward.

We all know where we have been.


Wednesday, March 13th, 2013


I am not sure how “hard” the numbers are but CRM application claims:

Up to 15% increase in revenues

66% less time wasted on finding and re-finding information

15% increase in win rates

I take this as evidence there is a market for less noisy data streams.

If filtered search can produce this kind of ROI, imagine what curated search can do.


The Heat in SharePoint Semantics: January 20 – January 27

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

The Heat in SharePoint Semantics: January 20 – January 27

Stephen Arnold writes:

As always, SharePoint Semantics has delivered many posts that are vitally important to both SharePoint end users and search enthusiasts alike.

Read Stephen’s post and then see: SharePoint Semantics for yourself.

From the tone of the posts I would say there are at least two very large issues that topic maps can address:

First, there is the issue of working with SharePoint itself. From these posts and other reports, it would be very generous to say that SharePoint has “documentation.” True there are materials that come with it, but either it doesn’t answer the questions users have and/or it doesn’t answer any questions at all. Opinions differ.

Using a topic map to provide a portal with useful and findable information about SharePoint itself seems like an immediate commercial opportunity. Suspect like most technical advice sites you would have to rely on ad revenue but from the numbers, it looks like people needing Sharepoint help is only going to increase.

Second, it is readily apparent that it is one thing to create data and store it in Sharepoint. It is quite another to make that information findable by others.

I don’t think that is entirely a matter of poor design or coding on the part of MS. I have never seen a useful SharePoint site but site design is left up to users. Even MS can’t increase the information management capabilities of the average user. Or at least I have never seen MS software have that result. 😉

The findability inside a SharePoint installation is an issue that topic maps can address. Like SharePoint, topic maps won’t make users more capable but they can put better tools at their disposal to assist in finding data. That isn’t speculation on my part, there is at least one topic map vendor that provides that sort of service for SharePoint installations.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I think offering better findability with topic maps isn’t going to be sufficient to drive market adoption. On the other hand, enhancing findability within contexts and applications that users are already using, may be the sweet spot we have been looking for.

Optimizing Findability in Lucene and Solr

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Optimizing Findability in Lucene and Solr

From the post:

To paraphrase an age-old question about trees falling in the woods: “If content lives in your application and you can’t find it, does it still exist?” In this article, we explore how to make your content findable by presenting tips and techniques for discovering what is important in your content and how to leverage it in the Lucene Stack.

Table of Contents

Planning for Findability
Knowing your Content
Knowing your Users
Garbage In, Garbage Out
Analyzing your Analysis
Stemming In Greater Detail
Query Techniques for Better Search
Navigation Hints
Final Thoughts

by Grant Ingersoll

You know when a blog post starts off with a table of contents it is long. Fortunately in this case, it is also very good. By one of the principal architects of Lucene, Grant Ingersoll.

A good start on developing findability skills but as the post points out, a lot of it will depend on your knowledge of what “findability” means to your users. Only you can answer that question.

Search Solutions 2011: Highlights and Reflections

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Search Solutions 2011: Highlights and Reflections by Tony Russell-Rose.

Of particular interest:

Probably the main one for me was Ricardo Baeza-Yates presentation “Beyond the Ten Blue Links”, which discussed Yahoo’s ongoing quest to satisfy the implicit and explicit needs of web search users, presented as a set of seven “challenges”. Some of these challenges you might have expected, such as Query Assistance (e.g. suggestions, related searches, and so on) and Universal Search (i.e. dealing with mixed media results). But other challenges were more unprecedented, e.g. “Post Search User Experience” and “Application Integration”. Both of these suggest a wider re-framing of the search problem, in which findability is just one (small) part of the overall search experience. In this context, the focus is no longer on low-level activities such as selecting relevant documents, but on recognising and providing support for the completion of higher-level tasks. This is interesting in its own right, but it also underlines Search Solutions policy of bringing together the web and enterprise search communities: in this instance, we clearly can learn a lot from each other.

The entire post merits you attention (the proceedings are online by the way) but I think Tony’s point about findability illustrates a weakness in at least how I have approached topic maps from time to time.

That is to approach topic maps as an excellent solution to authoring, finding, or maintaining information about subjects, without stopping to ask why we want to author, find or maintain the information about subjects?

However interesting or clever I find search, string comparison, networks/graphs, graph algorithms, etc., they are unlikely to be of interest to mainstream users.

Or at best, such concerns are a means to an end and not considered interesting enough to bother learning the names of the algorithms that others (including me) think are so bloody important.

Not that I think SC 34/WG 3 needs to expand its brief to include “higher-level tasks” but that in promoting topic maps, we should try to find “higher-level” tasks where topic maps can offer a substantial advantage.


Take the struggle out of search

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Take the struggle out of search

John Moore writes in Federal Computer Week:

Consistency is generally a good thing, but the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s website established a pattern for its search function no organization wants to own: It was consistently bad.

The agency used a combination of Web analytics and more detailed survey questions to zero in on the problem and discovered what was frustrating some site visitors: They were searching for information that couldn’t be found on the site. FSIS’ food safety purview covers meat, poultry and eggs, but some users were searching for information on vegetable and seafood recalls. Those alerts fall under the Food and Drug Administration.

The problem was solved here by directing visitors off-site to find the appropriate information.

Question: What do you do when visitors ask for information you don’t have?

Say they search for a game title that is by a competing manufacturer? Or a book title from another publisher? Or some other product by “the competition.”

Do you simply return a null result? (Tip for the day – when all else fails, return a useful result)

The article provides the details of and possible solutions to: (not unique to government, survey says half of all commercial businesses lack findability goals, 2008 but I would be willing to bet that hasn’t improved):

  • Problem 1: Poor information architecture
  • Problem 2: Not enough people or expertise
  • Problem 3: Too many government websites
  • Problem 4: Little or no SEO

Is this another data point in the continuing saga of why semantic solutions, including topic maps, face slow uptake?

That most organizations, commercial/governmental/non-profit/etc., lack basic information storage/retrieval skills. Have some very highly skilled people but not enough to do everything. Most of the rest are very willing but lack the skills to make a difference.

Which makes offering advanced information technologies like offering a grade school science fair participant use of the Large Hadron Collider in place of their lost radium sample for a Wilson cloud chamber. May some day be useful to them, but not today.

Suggestion: Use advanced techniques (I would inveigh for topic maps) to create “better” search capabilities for part of an agency website. Can’t really repair poor architecture remotely but probably can minimize its impact. Create a noticeably more useful search experience, such that even agency staff turn to it for some resources. Gives you a calling card with validation to back it up. (You probably also need to hire that recently retired section chief but doing a good job helps as well.)

PS: Just so you know, the first example of antimatter, a positive electron was discovered with a cloud chamber. Stray cosmic ray with enough power for the decay pattern to include a positron. Cloud chamber plans. The start of your education to be able to talk to the folks at the CERN in their own terms.

Findability is just So Last Year

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Findability is just So Last Year by Tony Russell-Rose.

From the post:

Last week I attended the October edition of the London Enterprise Search meetup, which gave us (among other things) our usual monthly fix of great talks and follow up discussions. This time, one of the topics that particularly caught my attention was the question of how to measure the effectiveness of enterprise search. Several possible approaches were suggested, including measuring how frequently users can “find what they are looking for” within a fixed period of time (e.g. two minutes).

Now I’m not saying findability isn’t important, but in my opinion metrics like this really seem to miss the point. Leaving aside the methodological issues in defining exactly what is meant by “find what they are looking for”, they seem predicated on the notion that search is all about finding known items, as if to suggest that once they’re found, everyone can go home. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

Not to ask it too sharply but are topic maps by themselves one-trick ponies?

A topic map can collocate information about a subject, along with associations to other subjects, perhaps with a bow on top, but then what?

What if there were an expectation of collocation of information as part of search engines and other information interfaces?

Topic maps as an embedded component in information interfaces?

In Going Head to Head with Google we saw how a speciality search engine could eat Google’s lunch on relevant search results. What about speciality collocation rather than “we omitted some duplicate results” type stuff?

Would not have to take over the click-through business all at once but like my father-in-law would say: “…just like eating lettuce, one leaf at a time.”