Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Successful Intranet Search by Martin White @intranetfocus #intra11

Search has been a hot topic in the intranet space for a long time. Why can’t I find what I’m looking for inside the company, just like with Google on the Internet. Martin White’s breakout at the Intranet Conference (Congres Intranet) was about this topic and want to help us improve intranet search.

White started out by asking which search engine we used. A long list of search platforms is mentioned, ranging from open source search technology to Sharepoint search. Not many participants have the same engine.
This illustrates one of the points White wanted to make. Search isn’t easy. It not easy on the internet, and it’s hard on the intranet as well. He shows how different the search results are. This is not helpful for users and it makes search unnessissararily complex. This is one of the reasons user go for the easiest route on the internet: just use Google.

However inside companies one often cannot easily choose this route . On the internet you mostly know what you are looking for. It’s there. And the search engine helps you refind it. And most users are just happy with the results that the search engine provides anyway.

In this context it is surprising to see that most organizations don’t have a person responsible for search. About 3 of the 70 in the audience could say they are the owner of search. All have a search engine, but nobody’s responsible for improving search based on user requirements.

Low quality search results are hardly ever due to the search technology itself. The source of the problems is the organization around search and the fact that there is no budget reserved to improve search results.

So how do we improve search? White advises us to focus on what employees can’t find. Don’t focus on ‘hits’ (which is defined by White as: How Idiots Track Success). Focus on stories users tell about their search experiences.
Make sure you have a good search team. It should consist of the following people: an IT specialist, someone who researches the search logs, someone from business and a search manager. So you need 4 people to make search successful. Nobody in the audience could say they have such a team.

At the end of the breakout someone asked: Should we stop improving the search engine and start supporting people search? If we find the person, he/she will point us to the right information. White agrees with this approach. But someone else said: What to do when someone has left the company? Don’t we need search then? Yes, we do, says White. That’s why we need to focus on getting intranet search right.

Martin White also gave a keynote talk about mobile intranet. I’ll blog about that soon!
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