In Search of Search?

 
 
By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2006-05-29
 
 
 

There is a strange, mystical phenomenon that many people experience every day—often, there is something a person knows is out there, but it is seemingly out of reach.

What are these mystical things? Are they on another plane of existence? Are they possessed of otherworldly powers that make them impossible for mere mortals to find?

Or, could it be that these things are right in front of us? That they are easily discoverable, if only we had the right tools to find them?

Some will say these tools already exist and are readily available to assist those looking for knowledge. Others say these tools are inadequate and provide incomplete or confusing answers, at best.

Who is right? Do tools exist to help people find hidden knowledge? Join us now as we go in search of … search.

OK. Maybe I didnt need to go all Leonard Nimoy on you there. But with the constant attention and major vendor wars currently happening around search, it wouldnt be strange to think that a good search tool is as hard to find as Bigfoot.

Microsoft recently announced its Live Search beta, which will include both a Web-based search site and integrated desktop tools to help users look for information across desktops, internal servers and the Internet simultaneously. This has, of course, been portrayed in the media as a major maneuver in Microsofts supposed war against search giant Google.

Microsoft attacks enterprise search. Click here to read more.

My first reaction was, "About time there, Microsoft." Its always seemed to be a no-brainer that the Windows operating system should have this kind of integrated and robust search capability. And, yes, this capability will compete directly with Googles Toolbar, as well as with countless other desktop search tools.

But, to be honest, my second take was, "Big deal." To me, desktop search is hardly a major battleground, and it definitely doesnt qualify as major technology news. Ive been covering desktop search tools since the mid-90s, and you know what? The tools today, while all very good, arent really better than the tools from back then. Ten years ago, I used very good desktop tools that could search every document on my desktop, on file servers, on company intranets and search servers, and on public Web search sites.

But, to me, a desktop search tool is a big deal only for people who do heavy research. I currently use X1 Technologies X1 desktop search tool, and I think its a great product. But I dont use it all the time.

And while desktop search tools can be helpful for finding lost documents and data, they are not necessarily the best solution for dealing with data overload. And they can, in fact, lead to bad data management on the part of users and companies.

Think about it. These tools encourage people not to worry about good data management. They basically say, "Put your stuff wherever—it doesnt really matter; Im sure the search tool will find it." But even the best search tools often dont pull up the content that you really want, especially if the search terms are broad.

Compare this to looking for information in documents that have been properly tagged, categorized and stored. On my PC, the best organized and most easily browsed content is my MP3 collection. Because of the way that music ripping and creation encourages proper tagging, its very easy for me to find and sort music based on, for example, artist and musical style. If my word processor forced similar diligence, I wouldnt need a good search tool to find content; it would already be easily accessible.

Also, think about how this affects your compliance and information management requirements. Do you really want to rely on search tools to find information needed for an audit, or would you like to have that information all properly tagged and categorized?

So, while desktop search tools are nice, they arent really big news. It would be big news if companies such as Microsoft made it easier for content to be properly tagged and categorized as its created, making these processes natural and easy, as opposed to difficult and unintuitive.

But, until then, well-organized content will remain as elusive as the Loch Ness monster. Which means many of us will continue to be … in search of.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

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