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Reporter's Notebook: China's eleventh five-year plan puts a particular emphasis on technology, and folks are paying attention.
When China President Hu Jintao visited Microsoft earlier this month, political and industry observers were quick to note that the Chinese president sat down to dinner with Microsoft CEO Bill Gates before meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush.
But Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos had a more humble take on that visit.
Gellos told internetnews.com that Washington State is a natural stopping point for such a long flight, and that in addition to the Microsoft campus in Redmond, the Chinese president also paid visits to Boeing headquarters and a nearby air museum.
With its plethora of technology companies, said Gellos, it turns out that the State of Washington is an important trading partner for China.
"You hear a lot about our nation's trade deficit," he quipped. "But Washington might be the one state that doesn't have a deficit with China."
Hop across the continent, to where enterprise search guru Steve Arnold gave the closing address at the Enterprise Search Summit in New York.
Arnold had just returned from China, and told his audience that, given China's 1.2 billion-plus population, even if you assumed that only 2 percent of the Chinese population was very smart, that would represent "three New York Cities full of very smart people. Think about that."
His larger point was that the era of U.S. dominance on the Web in terms of total number of pages is drawing to an end.
"In five years, more Web pages will be in Chinese than in English," he said.
No wonder Google has risked ditching its good-guy image to gain a toe hold there.
Speaking of Google, many observers (and competitors) are happy to note that Google doesn't do enterprise search very well, mainly because its methodology for ranking pages is irrelevant within a corporate intranet.
"The success of Google's page ranking on the Web is based on page links," noted Yves Schabes, president of search technology vendor Teragram. "Most corporate documents don't have links to other documents."
Sue Feldman, an analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC, explained that Google's Internet search provides results that are "good enough."
Enterprise search needs to be more accurate than that, she said.
"Google's role is to create unbiased access to everything in the world. In enterprise search, you want to limit access to only the pertinent stuff. You want tools for users to not waste their time."
Feldman told internetnews.com that knowledge workers spend 25 percent of their time at work looking for information. According to her research, this translates into $6 million dollars per 1,000 knowledge workers per year wasted searching for facts.
But Arnold has a different take: he says Google's OneBox appliance is setting the whole concept of enterprise search on its ear.
OneBox finds search terms within other enterprise applications, such as customer relationship management, business intelligence and e-mail, and highlights those results for users.
"Google's approach to search is to make it a gateway to your company's non-functional processes," he said. "It's not search, it's a way to get to business applications."
Arnold called out another relative newcomer, Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Vivisimo, as another revolutionary company, with its ability to categorize content and eliminate redundant results.
"Vivisimo is the strongest federator and de-duper there is today," he said.
Vivisimo distinguishes itself from the field by providing navigation, categorization, and visualization as facets of search, helping users narrow their query results.
Feldman, another fan of Vivisimo, said trying to pin content down by establishing taxonomies is a waste of time.
"You have no idea how people are going to structure their query," she said.
She said that search engine technologies that feature semantic understanding, browsing and categorization are better bets for enterprise search needs.
In addition to meeting those requirements, Vivisimo, Exalead and Teragram have something else in common: they have all been founded by French people (okay, Yves Schabes is from Luxembourg, but it's close enough and they're French-speaking).
Vivisimo chief scientist Jerome Pesenti laughed when confronted with this statistical anomaly.
"I've wondered that myself," he said. "I don't know the answer."
"Search me," he could have said.