In 2013 Search No More

By Marc Solomon posted 12-26-2012 12:44


Happy predictive mapping and good morning future. It's easier to get our crystal ball bearings with a recent step back into some bold and equally unheralded moves forward. 

In 2011 we entered two realms that will forever change human perceptions of learning and discovery. Google turned on "Suggest" with scarcely a whimper of fanfare. Then they personalized search results and it registered only the barest hint on the hype-a-meter. It's true that subdued release cycles are par for the course at Google. It's just more work to deal with civil libertarians and estranged content owners. Engineering organizations prefer to have their creations speak for them, not their own marketing operations. And any way who needs attention when you're the world's pre-eminent attention manager?

Since then we have willingly acceded to a search cartel that intercepts our intentionality if not outright shaping it. Barely a hiccup and our declarations are now captured under Google house arrest. Co-opting half-formed curiosities into full-fledged ad words auctions is one insidious way that Google blurs the line between answering a need and monopolizing the response by sowing what it plants.

That's one form of search media – Google as distributor and co-opting owner, cornering a marketplace of one. Think of all the media hatched on a local tape, reel, or drive whose final resting place lies somewhere above the cloud on a YouTube server. Now think of all the ads and fees and royalties stripped of the content they were designed to monetize. The tolls and winning bids have reverted to the auctioneer. On this evidence Google CEO Larry Page has decided that he's going to engineer what the watchdogs at the FTC, the EU, and Don Draper in a charitable mood could never achieve or even fathom, really: advertising as a meritocracy.

Page wants his benevolent dictatorship to point away from the hucksters and optimizers, abolishing their gaming practices by burying their link schemes in an implacable haze of obscurity. Page wants to obliterate all the underhanded ways that attention is stolen away from the deserving: The service providers whose placements are not distractions at all but of actual use to us in each of our personalized Google experiences.

Like any benevolent dictator the urge to quell the self-serving excesses of rogue actors comes with the leadership turf. The leader has an awesome responsibility to uphold the public trust (or as in Google's case our collective 'private trust.') Google doesn't want to cede power any more than most of us entrust ourselves to control the temperature and pressure of an Internet-channeled information fire hose. The reciprocity here may not carry the virtuosity of open source but it still runs both ways.

Flash forward to 2014.

The same experiential level of search has reached across the web and seeped below our firewalls. Larry's vision for blurring the distinction between advertising and programming is now part and parcel of a spam-free enterprise. Responses to queries are no longer search results but "lowest price points" and "top domain experts" and "trending risk factors" that could sideline our own release dates.

That's in large part due to the fact that the company that originated market hegemony in the name of 'personal' was able to re-engineer its architecture around metadata – a once casual and now cozy relationship.  In Microsoft Office once vanishing values are now inherited, even propagated.

Where once there were displaced document properties and ponderous search filters (upload date, really?) there are now query rules, results types, display templates, and refiners built on the foundation of managed metadata services introduced in 2010. However 2010 wasn’t mature enough to bake the sweeping gains of FAST Search into the product. In 2013 that code base is not just another pretty feature but the backbone of the platform.  

With less scale, mystery, and the same understated step forward, some of the same toolset Google has commanded to reappropriate human curiosity is present here in SharePoint 2013. 

Search Query Builder is an object-based program for modeling the same search calibrations first delivered by FAST as a best-in-class point solution. No query is too complex to ponder, visualize or preview. In fact testing those complexities under the search preview glass affords information architects the same sequential control that an editor possesses in piecing a game or story together – those more traditional keepers of experiential learning in a media-based presentation. SharePoint 2013's metadata driven navigation means the same shadowing of our cognitive impulses we've come to intimate from Google Suggest – a mental map immune to distraction (and open to our suggestion as designers).

The big equalizer between Google and SharePoint search is not the refinements and structures on the backend but on the results screen. The search is no longer keywords in search of an algorithmically valid link but a series of topic pages where search is used to generate content – not the reverse. Blogger / developer Sonjasapps assures us that "Old school structure based navigation that shows sites and pages as menu items is still available." But metadata driven navigators now hold some cards formerly the exclusive province of off-screen Google. Information architects have nothing to lose but their own duplicate hits, outdated best bets, redundant siloes, and internal link farms.

The design side of enterprise search could soon see tangible gains from legacy Microsoft foundations – not as licensing renewals but investments. For instance, get your hooks into Active Directory and it’s not simply to control permissions but transform internal contact information into strategic roadmaps tethered to organizational charts.

Predictions and metaphors aside, regardless of your enterprise settling solution or the timing of your adoption, here's a well-kept secret worth letting out: The expectation of high quality, demand-based searches is a promise worth keeping.

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