Stop Complaining and Improve Your Search

By Christian Buckley posted 02-14-2012 17:47


Upload a single document into a brand new system, and search is going to be fairly simple. One document, one possible search result. Easy.

Likewise, upload dozens, hundreds, thousands of documents that use the same content type -- all MS Word documents, all using the same common taxonomy, and search remains simple.

Now, add hundreds of content types, files of varying sizes and complexity, some with structured taxonomy -- but most without clear metadata associations, spread across various lists, libraries, sites and silos. Search just got a bit more difficult.

Community is easy when it's just two or three people connecting. Pick up the phone and have a conversation, or send out a web meeting invitation and pull 4 or 5 people in to discuss an idea, develop a shared plan. Now add hundreds, even thousands of voices into the mix. It makes collaboration more difficult, for sure.

In the search scenario, the wrong thing to do is  to say "reduce the amount of content." Sure, there's always a need to purge the system for bad content, but it's usually replaced just as quickly. But reducing the amount of content is not the issue -- searching for (and locating) the right content should be your focus. By expanding the pool of content, the greater your chances of finding the right content to meet your needs. There's just a greater need for organization, for filtering through irrelevant material.

Likewise, the benefit to community is the same as with content. More is better -- when using the right tools and filters, allowing you to experience ideas and inputs that you might otherwise miss if your community is limited to yourself and a handful of friends. Organization and search are key.

I'm writing this not as a piece on metadata or taxonomy, and not on search. This is very much a plug for the power of social, and the need for expanding and nourishing community. I am grateful to be part of a dynamic and vibrant SharePoint community (which reminds me a lot of the Rational Software community circa 1998-2000). If you are not involved in SharePoint, it really is something you need to come and sample (I suggest attending one of the many SharePoint Saturday events springing up around the world).

As with any successful online or offline community, the SharePoint community continues to grow and evolve as the collective unconscious of its members grows and evolves. As new ideas and community members join, they add to the dialog and to the content of the community. In some cases, old ideas are purged, but in most cases they simply add to the perspectives and content already out there. This makes finding content and identifying expertise more difficult. The wrong thing is to say "we need to reduce the amount of content" or "there are too many opinions here." Limit the sample size of your query, and you limit the quality of the results you will find. It's true for search, it's true for community.

I mentioned this to my good friend Karuana Gatimu (@karuana) yesterday while working together to plan out marketing activities for the upcoming SharePoint Saturday Los Angeles event. On the state of the community, she said "You know, we've only just scratched the surface of what we can do." I agree. More content and more voices are a good thing.

If you can't find the information you need in your first search, the answer is not to delete the majority of content, thereby making search "easier." The answer is to refine your search. 

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