Consumer and Enterprise Search: Not an Exact Match

Overshadowed by Google mania and relatively simple technology for consumer search engines, enterprise search is making exciting progress. But the requirements are tougher: businesses demand accuracy, timeliness, integration, and availability.

The three vendors I've cited as well as others perform taxonomy-based text mining and statistical classification. Enterprise adoption of these technologies has a corollary benefit that's independent of any given software vendor. According to Dale Hazel, Convera senior vice president for marketing, enterprises "should have good knowledge architecture as a way of organizing information.... The organizational phase of solution deployment is [often] neglected." Information collection and use does not align with business processes and goals, Hazel says, "which is why taxonomies are important."

Extending Search

Descriptive metainformation and statistical pattern recognition and classification may be applied to render nontextual objects searchable, which is good because a very high proportion of business information is nontextual. This information consists of speech and other nonverbal audio, images, and video, and intangibles such as relationships. Nexidia provides an audio solution — a "phonetic" search engine — that the company sells directly and licenses for integration with third-party applications.

Vendors such as LinkedIn and Spoke tout the business value of social networks that consist of employees' professional and personal contacts. Tools from these and other emerging software developers demonstrate that organizations can model social networks and systematically exploit them via network search functions that detect and transmit requests using connections within and between companies. The varying approaches mirror those in the text-mining world. LinkedIn users' networks are purely intentional, built link by link, and have correspondingly high quality, while Spoke throws technology at the problem by mining email to infer relationships and their strength, leading to broader but lower-quality networks.

Internet-mediated social networks are by definition restricted to participants with Internet access; no search technology can work with documents (or at least metadata describing documents) that aren't in electronic form. Enterprises recognize this inherent limitation more than consumer Web users do, who often complacently ignore any information source that isn't online.

Enterprises are driven by mandates that include boosting profitability and competitiveness, providing a single, integrated view of customer information, meeting corporate compliance requirements, and preventing terrorist attacks. While Google and Yahoo share significant technology underpinnings with the enterprise search vendors that aim to help organizations meeting goals of this demanding nature, corporate security, accuracy, integration, and interoperability demands will keep enterprise and Web search implementations on separate but parallel tracks for the foreseeable future.

Seth Grimes is a principal of Alta Plana Corp., a Washington, D.C.-based consultancy specializing in business analytics and demographic, marketing, and economic statistics.




Dublin Core Metadata Initiative:

"On Search, the Series":



Online at

"Matchmaker, Matchmaker," April 17, 2004

"The Word on Text Mining," Dec. 10, 2003

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