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Google Search 2010: A mid-year report card

Google’s stellar financial performance means that the company is thriving in a dicey economic climate. With its gush of money, Google can push into the enterprise without the furrowed brows that others sport.

The economics of Google’s advertising machine are becoming almost predictable. Cash fuels frequent, continuous innovation, often without a discernible pattern. Competitors are used to Google’s announcing new functionalities to both Google Docs and Gmail. Google Docs provides better formatting options with a margin ruler, improved numbering and bullets and more options for image placement.

Spreadsheets now have a formula editing bar, cell auto-complete, drag-and-drop columns and more. Google has also added a new drawings editor to Google Docs, which may make Microsoft’s Visio product manager lose some sleep. Within Google Docs you can build flow charts collaboratively. Gmail now sports a new nested label feature and the ability to drag and drop attachments.

In the larger information processing markets, the Google method was at first disruptive. Five or six years ago, the Google Search Appliance (somewhat confusingly named GSA) was a novelty. In the GSA’s infancy, the "baby" version of the Google search system cost less than $2,500. Today, the price is higher, and the Google cheerleading is another background noise in enterprise search procurement.

Adaptable

Ask an enterprise user about search and the answer is something along the lines of: "I want search to work just like Google." Google will not reveal how many GSAs have been sold. I have heard estimates that range from 20,000 to as many as 60,000 units at client locations. Presumably someone in a cubicle at Google has the "number," but the Google way is inscrutable silence.

Today, search and retrieval is as unstable as wine on a harried waiter’s serving tray. The intersection of an organization’s information needs, a GSA and original code that makes use of Google application programming interfaces is a useful combination in the hands of a savvy IT professional. Google and a small number of other search vendors have adapted to some interesting changes in enterprise information access.

First, in-house information professionals want a combination of easy deployment and a bunch of knobs and dials to turn in order to deliver search-enabled applications. (The GSA offers about four knobs; other vendors offer scores of knobs plus buttons and sliders to set.)

Second, the users expect a search box, which means an actual search box or information that just appears "automagically," preferably without too much mousing around.

Third, even the lawyers and accountants know that  appropriately priced systems information access is essential. Organizations are wading in mud on the shore of a rapidly expanding lake of digital information. A misstep can be expensive, embarrassing or financially burdensome.

In this shift, what has happened to the Google Search Appliance? The answer is that the GSA is now complemented by a wider range of Google components. Each component has search DNA, but those complements add important capabilities to Google’s enterprise search lineup. The analogy is that a basketball team finds itself with two LeBron James.

Let me highlight the Google enterprise search lineup as we wind closer to the end of 2010. Google does not package its products and services as I group them, preferring to scatter information like pieces in a big puzzle.

Progress report

Google has some work to do in making its wealth of products, services and resources more easily findable. In the meantime, buckle down and explore Google. The payoff makes the effort worthwhile in many situations.

The surprising news was the rollout of Google Commerce Search (GCS). Most organizations know that Google can search a Web site without charge or, if there is a fee, it is a bargain. The GCS focuses on the retail side of a company’s business. You can begin your education about this new search service at google.com/commerce search. In a nutshell, for $50,000 a year—a price that varies by number of stocking units or items for sale—you get a cloud-based e-commerce system. Keep in mind that if you own a Google Search Appliance, the systems are separate. The benefits of the product include seamless scaling to handle peak traffic, special product promotion functions, and advanced reporting and analysis, among others. Endeca’s e-commerce system has been a strong contender in the enterprise retail search space. Like Google’s industrial strength e-mail service, built on Gmail and the Postini systems, GCS is a cloud play.

The second key development has been Google’s steady stream of integration and application programming interface (API) activity. An API is a method used by one program to allow it to communicate with another program. On the integration front, Google continues to add partners. With each passing month, it calibrates its partner program. From the relatively loose approach taken a year ago, today’s partner program is stringent. Among the partners available to assist organizations are Appirio, Atlassian and Manymoon. A full lineup of partners is available at http://code.google.com/googleapps/campfire.html.

The APIs themselves now number in the hundreds, but I have not been able to locate a comprehensive list. For the enterprise sector, there is a secure data connector, a provisioning API, a code block to implement a single sign-on and an e-mail migration API. There are three ways to keep track of Google’s APIs. I have signed up for the Google Apps Developer Blog, which often yields some tasty code McNuggets. Next, I track postings and content in Google Apps at this URL, http://code.google.com. Google posts some useful information on YouTube at youtube.com/user/googledevelopers.

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