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Jump-Starting Collaboration with Social Search

This article is part of the Best Practices White Paper Enterprise Search [May 2008]
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Over the past several years, industry pundits and vendors have predicted that collaboration tools such as social tagging, social networking, wikis and other Web 2.0 phenomena will become mainstream within the enterprise. In fact, Gartner reported that by the end of 2007, 30% of all large corporations had Web 2.0 applications enabled within their organizations. But as the adoption of Web 2.0 functionality hits the enterprise, a question still remains—how can enterprises effectively integrate these Web-based tools into their corporate infrastructure to increase employee collaboration?

The answer is through search. Almost all data created by enterprise applications can be accessed through a search box, and many organizations connect all of their applications through a single search screen today. Enterprise search has opened the doors to all content stored throughout the enterprise. The next step is to provide end users with tools to make sense of this overwhelming amount of information and to easily share knowledge with colleagues and business partners. These collaboration tools, which will turn the quest for collaboration into a reality, are now available through new enterprise search capabilities—social search.

Defining Social Search
Social tagging.
The simplest and easiest-to-implement forms of social search are fixed types of social tagging—voting and ratings. This capability allows users to rate or vote on whether they find a search result useful or not. By rating or voting on search results, subsequent searchers will see which results their peers thought most relevant. This information can also be used to adjust relevancy. Administrators can run reports to determine what type of content is found by users to be most helpful and can create key matches based on this information. This continuous feedback loop ultimately improves the end users’ ability to find exactly what they need.

Another form of social tagging in search is keyword tagging. This gives users the ability to tag documents based on keyword terms that identify the concepts most important in the document. These keywords then become associated with the document in the search engine as metadata and can be found via search and used to organized search results into categories.

The last and most powerful form of tagging is search results annotation. Annotation lets users comment on search results by using free text similar to how one would comment on a blog post. Workers can read other users’ annotations and quickly learn about documents pulled up in search results without ever opening them, saving valuable time in locating information. Additionally, these annotations can even help users learn the context of information as well as which colleagues to turn to for more details.

Annotations offer users an alternative way for colleagues to communicate information to one another versus email or instant messaging, providing the added benefit of never being misplaced, lost or accidentally deleted. Annotations also address the concern many organizations have of losing valuable human knowledge when employees leave or retire. It’s an easy way to capture, disperse and use knowledge without fear that it will walk out the door when an employee leaves.

Social bookmarking. With social bookmarking, users can save individual search results or queries into virtual folders that have read/write protection at the user, group or corporate level. By saving search results in shared virtual folders, others in the organization can easily view results in specific subject areas their colleagues have found useful and utilize the work others have already done for their own searches. This saves users time as well as allows them to tap into the knowledge of others.

Social networking. Social networking capabilities in search allow users to locate experts within their organization by viewing profiles of colleagues pulled from a variety of different repositories in the form of a mash-up. Search-based mash-ups can display employee photos, contact information, biographical data and recent tagging or annotating activity in one single view. For example, if an employee has tagged dozens of documents with a specific keyword, whenever that keyword is searched on, that employee would show up in the results as a potential expert on that particular subject.

Social Search in Action
The following three scenarios—competitive intelligence, research and development and human resources—are all applications where the introduction of social search capabilities can dramatically increase collaboration, drive innovation, foster communication and improve productivity.

Competitive intelligence. Competitive intelligence teams within organizations are tasked with keeping up with an endless flow of information regarding markets, technologies and competitors. This information comes in many different forms from a wide variety of sources and outlets—news stories, press releases, subscription-based reports, blog postings, employment advertisements and more. In addition, these teams often have a dual charter to not only make the information above accessible to a broader audience, but to also produce their own intelligence briefs for executive leadership.

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