Innovations in Search, Day 1
Day one of the Innovations in Search conference is over. This is the first that I've attended, so I had no idea what to expect beyond the program.
As with most conferences there was a mix of good and not-as-good presentations. Here are some items that were highlights for me.
The keynote was given by Clare Hart, president and CEO of Factiva. Factiva seems to have some very smart ideas and a good design process for an intuitive user experience. Their tools that I've seen and played with are beautiful and functional. My favorite quote from Clare: "So much of the future of search is about presentation." I think that value is well-represented in the Factiva search tools.
Alan Feuer, of Blossom Software, gave a presentation entitled "How Transparency Helps Search." He brandished a magic wand throughout the talk as a reminder that while geeks may understand why a search tool does something, to the average user it's magic. He said that search before the Web used to involve experts, and it was always a conversation. Web search tools, unfortunately, tend to discourage the conversation. He argued that a big part of the problem is that search tools don't explain why a particular result was returned, and that tools often make significant modifications to the user's query (query expansion, stemming, spell correcting, etc.) without telling the user about it. One example he gave of progress in transparency is the dynamic excerpts (usually with hit highlighting) that many search tools return. However, they don't show link text that may have contributed to a results ranking (I think he was referring to things uch as the "miserable failure" Google bombing exploit). Overall, I appreciated Alan's presentation mostly for what it was not, a sales pitch, and what it was, a serious attempt to discuss the most important search problems and potential solutions.
The last presentation of the day was given by Mark Clements of Nexidia. He demonstrated an audio search tool that Nexidia has developed, taking a phrase typed into the search box (in this case [capital punishment]) and finding the points in a number of recorded phone conversations where someone said that phrase. Very cool.
It seemed like every presentation contained a screenshot of an intentionally vague, one-word query in the Google Web search interface. Each vendor then triumphantly demonstrated why their product could help the user better than Google. I was surprised that Google had no representation here for their enterprise products.
It was very difficult to gauge the mix here. It was clear that there were a number of vendors in attendance, but beyond them, I don't know how many were potential customers, developers, integrators, etc.