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Jul 15, 2005: Search Experts: Who? What?

After a bit of an inadvertent summer break, it's time to get back to blogging...

Back in May, I shared my shortlist of taxonomy experts here on Bloug. My primary motivation was to store this data in a somewhat more reliable location than my frontal lobe; hopefully you'll also find it useful should you be in the market for a taxonomy expert. The initial list has grown a bit, as a number of specialists have asked to be added, and I'll be glad to continue maintaining the list.

Along the same lines, I thought I should generate a list of search experts. For some reason, this seems far, far more difficult. There are independent consultants that I can claim to actually know, like Avi Rappaport and Gregg Notess. There are also those that I've heard and read, like Steve Arnold and perhaps John Battelle. But not a lot of names spring to mind.

There are also lots of smart people who work for search engine vendors, like Verity's Walter Underwood, and analysts at research firms, like Gartner's Whit Andrews and IDG's Susan Feldman. But I'm guessing that these folks aren't exactly available for consulting on the side.

I'd love to know who else is out there (please comment below), but perhaps I'm barking up the wrong tree. Has search grown into such a broad domain that asking for a "search expert" is as silly as looking for a "telephone expert"? Do search engine vendors wield enough power to drown out the independent voices? What exactly would a search specialist be anyway?

Instead of names, perhaps it would be better to list types of expertise that would be nice to find in a search specialist. Here are a few:

  • Ability to perform search log analysis and other methods for profiling users' information needs, diagnosing retrieval problems, and benchmarking performance
  • Ability to determine and design optimal solutions, such as instituting query enhancers (e.g., spell checking) and best bet results
  • Interface design expertise, especially in regard to query interfaces and results presentation
  • Knowledge of retrieval and ranking algorithms, and ability to tweak them as necessary
  • Knowledge of search engine applications and the people behind them
  • Understanding of what types of information retrieval can and can't be tested

(Note that technology expertise is only a minor component of this list. Search is so much more than search engines. But we'll save that discussion for another day.)

Any other skills or people worth mentioning?

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Comment: david king (Jul 15, 2005)

Gary Price of www.resourceshelf.com would be one...

Comment: James Robertson (Jul 16, 2005)

Hi Lou, a related question is: who are the current "user experience"/"usability" gurus?

Jakob Nielsen has been joined by Steve Krug as recognised experts, which is good. But most of the Adaptive Path folk have moved onwards to more "exciting" territory. UIE is still doing good work, but who is "pushing the envelope" in this field?

I've actually found it quite difficult to identify who the published "thought leaders" are in this field nowadays, beyond the same old names...

Bring it back to your query about search experts, perhaps these fields are no longer seen as "sexy" enough to warrant highly-visible gurus?

Cheers, James

Comment: Lou (Jul 18, 2005)

James, excellent comments. Regarding search not being sexy enough, you might be right. But in th eage of Google's ascendence, it's hard to believe that search doesn't generate more interest. Maybe all that energy has migrated to the SEO side of things, of which I'll admit to being quite ignorant.

As far as UX/usability, they're really not the same thing. And I'd argue that there can be no UX gurus; it would simply be impossible for someone to achieve such status in the huge number of disciplines that make up UX. But perhaps that's a topic for a new blog entry...

Comment: marianne (Jul 19, 2005)

Waaaahl Pilgrim, that depends on what you mean by expert. I just finished three years of information science [and some library science in there for good measure] at the University of Washington with a focus on information retrieval. Does that make me an expert? In the land of the "Search Blind" I'm guessing that it would. I defer to the experience of James, my esteemed collegue from CM Pros :), that many who were initially intrigued by Search have now moved to other intriguing topics [AJAX, meta navigation, etc]. However, those of us who stick with Search see the potential delight in its ongoing development. Social classification, direct navigation, predictive results are just a few of the areas. What makes a Search expert? In my book, it is someone who is represent the behavioral component in the technical side of information architecture; that being information retrieval. I *love* Search! :) m

Comment: ML (Jul 19, 2005)

I have to agree it's difficult to see where search expert is one niche. Where I was working before it was one of many related things(along with IA/UE/document management/security/metadata/taxonomies). But the biggest thing is how do you translate the need for search engines, its integration with websites and application, and search logs analysis into solving business problems or providing a sound model/best practices for better information management/organization/access/retrieval.

I can't consider myself an expert but I definitely have some real experiences for all the bullet points mentioned above in addition to identity and security management in relation to search.

Comment: Margaret L Ruwoldt (Jul 20, 2005)

For search-related expertise and inspiration, I've found Martin Belam's blog and conference presentations etc invaluable. For a couple of years he was in charge of the BBC Online search facility; he's still at the Beeb, but has moved on to other 'new media' areas. Personal site is http://www.currybet.net/

Comment: Sérgio Nunes (Jul 20, 2005)

Danny Sullivan [from Search Engine Watch fame] seems to be missing from your list.

Comment: Phil Bradley (Jul 20, 2005)

Actually, there's a whole bunch of them. Greg and Danny are obvious names, but then you also need to include Gary Price of Resourceshelf fame. Mary Ellen Bates is another clear choice, Ran Hock, Marydee Ojala and over in the UK there's Karen Blakeman and er... me!

All of us work in the search arena, teach it, write about it, consult on it in one form or another, and most of us have a library background.

Comment: Lou (Jul 20, 2005)

This is great; please keep'em coming!

Comment: Jorge Serrano (Jul 21, 2005)

Lou, how is your spanish?

You may want to check this:

You can find other search scientists, not only search but also information seeking:

• Ingwersen
• Marchinionini
• Belkin
• Carol Kuhlthau
• David Ellis
• Marcia J. Bates

Jorge Serrano

Comment: Christy Confetti Higgins (Jul 25, 2005)

Hi Lou -

I worked with 2 consultants at Sun that I would highly recommend:

Search expert: Patty Barnard

Taxonomy expert: Ileen Fiddler (i_fiddler@yahoo.com)

I also think skills for a search expert would be:

- Knowledge of metadata standards and applications as it relates to optimizing search and discovery.
- Expertise in user content needs and analysis.

For a taxonomy expert you obviously need skill sets in information retrieval and discovery as well to understand how your organization or architecture will be best used.

If you need/want contact information for either Patty or Ileen, let me know. I included their personal email addresses above.

Sun Microsystems, SunLibrary

Comment: Tony Safina (Aug 7, 2005)

What about Barbara Quint? Barbara(1) has been around quite a while. So has Reva(2).

Tony Safina
Shepherdsville, KY

1. http://www.infotoday.com/books/books/QuintSearcher.shtml

2. http://www.well.com/user/reva/

Comment: julie cully (Aug 9, 2005)

And of course the rest of the Supersearchers

I would add Ruth Pagell

Anne Mintz

information scientists all!
Those of us who have been in the "library" business for 20 years or more know a thing or two about searching :>

Julie Cully

Comment: julie cully (Aug 9, 2005)

Oh and I should have also said Sheila Webber


Comment: Martin White (Aug 12, 2005)

Hi Lou

One-man consulting businesses have to engage in self-promotion! I've been involved in the information retrieval business for around three decades, including working on the design of the DECO search software by Unilever Computer Services in the late 1970s. Unilever eventually decided not to offer it commercially, which was a pity though strategically the right decision.

A number of recent consulting projects have highlighted issues around the search component (or rather the lack of it) in CMS applications. There seems to be a considerable lack of understanding of how to specify and select an intranet/enterprise search engine application. So just at this very moment I'm busy writing a report on how to do just this, to be published by Freepint (http://www.freepint.com/shop/report/) in mid-September. (The report details are not yet up on the site though)

If you want to hear the oral version of the report then I'll be in action at the Nielsen Norman User Experience events in Boston and London later this year http://www.nngroup.com/events/, as well as at events in places as interesting as Nimes, Aarhus and Rotterdam.


Intranet Focus Ltd

Comment: Jeff Werness (Aug 15, 2005)

I hate to sound like a tease (because I'm currently off the consulting market due to a FT permanent engagement in Chicago), but I will toot my own horn anyway:

I am a search wiz (specializing in retail ecommerce but have much experience with intranets and more). My experience spans consumer electronics, financial, government, educational categories and more. My own areas of expertise are managing language and meaning within the context of relevancy algorithms and creating usable experiences, but I have very broad and deep experience in all areas of search.

I've just finished a book on designing effective ecommerce search systems and it will be out in Nov/Dec timeframe.

As Lou details above, there are lots of skills that contribute to effective search solutions. There are only two functions I would add:

- The ability to organize content for information retrieval -- don't let anyone fool you: searching 'unstructured content' -- especially across multiple repositories -- pretty much sucks. While it's almost always viewed as the exclusive domain of CMS staff, search architects need to elbow their ways into it in order make search work.
- The ability to integrate search applications into the rest of the business (marketing, personalization, etc) in order to justify the huge dollars that are normally demanded in a realistic search budget.

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