|Google’s Udi Manber
Source: Lisa Arthur
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Think Google knows all there is to know about search? Not quite.
In fact, it sees plenty of thorny issues and challenges ahead, particularly in its efforts to sift through its own internal data.
Speaking here during an event hosted by Carnegie Mellon at its Silicon Valley campus, Udi Manber, a vice president of engineering at Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and the head of its core search, outlined a few of the obstacles that even Google is working to overcome.
Manber said the familiar Google search interface has become so ubiquitous that it’s how most Internet users expect to find information. “My guess is if you then go to work, it’s not that easy to find what you want [on a corporate system] because there are seven to eight different places you have to look, with different interfaces.”
But Google itself has a ways to go in figuring out the best way to access corporate information via search. Manber said the company has deployed a search tool for internal use, but he thinks it still needs work.
“It’s not that good — I’m complaining about it,” he said.
Enterprise search has long been seen as a key way for the giants in search to apply their technologies toward servicing lucrative business customers. But it’s not always that easy, since getting the right results from an enterprise search tool requires scanning so many disparate systems and formats, and taking into account different levels of access rights — for example, access to companies’ payroll and technical information on unreleased products could well be restricted.
Google, which maintains an enterprise search group separate from its public google.com service, offers a product line based around its Google Search Appliance (GSA) for enterprises to search within their networks’ documents, for internally or externally facing Web-based search.
But in a later interview, IDC enterprise search analyst Sue Feldman said Google’s PageRank technology, used for measuring the importance and relevance of links in searching, has proven more effective for consumers than enterprise customers.
“PageRank is not so great without the massive frequency of clicks you get on the public Web,” Feldman told InternetNews.com. “The popularity of a topic or page is not always the best answer in the enterprise.”
Feldman was quick to add that although GSA relies on PageRank, she didn’t know what Google might be using internally.
The search for relevancy
Nitin Mangtani, lead product manager for Google’s Search Appliance, said recent updates to the GSA software improves the relevancy of its results. For example, a search for “Apple” would present two clusters of results, one focused on the company and the other on the fruit, with the user then choosing between them.
“At the end of the day, the job of the search engine is to provide the most relevant results,” Mangtani told InternetNews.com.
During his talk at the Carnegie Mellon event, Timothy Chou, co-founder of enterprise search tools provider Openwater Networks said that that enterprise search requires advanced solutions.
He quoted the CIO of Chevron as saying corporations essentially create the equivalent of the Library of Congress every day.
“The consumer Web might be a hundred terabytes, but the amount of data in corporate databases is many times that,” said Chou, whose company offers products that complement the Google appliance in providing more precise and relevant results to enterprise users.
Dave Hodgson, CIO of pharmaceutical giant Roche, said he’s reasonably satisfied with results from FAST, the enterprise search system that his company uses. FAST was recently purchased by Microsoft for $1.2 billion.
“The ranking is reasonable, but it doesn’t take advantage of who people are and what they do,” he said during his talk. “For real-world problems, you want to know more about the user specifically. You don’t want one-size-fits-all in enterprise search.”
On the public side of search
But when it comes to searching through data outside of the corporate Internet, Google remains an undisputed success.
While the search giant is constantly tinkering with new user interfaces, Manber said the simplicity of its standard, bare bones design remains tough to beat.
“Google has been very successful by being very minimal,” Manber said. “We’re doing hundreds of experiments with user interfaces; I see two to three new ones everyday.”
He added that Google might offer users the option of different views on its main search page, similar to the way it does so already on its personalized iGoogle page.
“Otherwise, I expect very incremental changes.” He said advanced users appreciate things like 3D and interfaces that offer more detailed views, but for the vast majority, “what happens now works. You type in two words, click and you’re done. You can’t beat that.”