A CONVERSATION WITH...Alkis Papadopoullos, Director, Linguistic Technologies, Convera, Canada
You've probably already figured out: there's something going on in the search market. I set out to figure out what it was, in a short conversation with Convera's Alkis Papadopoullos:
"Customers are looking at their detailed use cases. In an e-commerce application, you want to parse out metadata from structured repositories so you can infer what the user is looking for. They may ask for ‘midnight azure,' but you have ‘blue.' You'd want to be able to infer the difference," Alkis explains.
Linguists talk about this stuff all the time, I found out. That kind of tailored search—specific to and customized for an on-line automobile site or an outdoor clothing store—is very different from the search that navigates through structured file-system content, looking for, say, terms in contracts in MS Word documents. The level of sophistication implied by that simple example is a generational distance away from the keyword search engines of the past.
So...what—exactly—has happened to search? In a word: differentiation.
"Some vendors have gotten very good at focusing on that ‘self-service' aspect," says Alkis. "Others focus on the content-management workflow," leading to a distinct differentiation along functional and vertical market lines. So, where's that put Convera?
"We're focused on our government customer base. The use cases for government are vastly different" than the ones we'd just talked about in the e-commerce or enterprise spaces. Alkis continues: "The use cases (in government) can consist of Boolean queries that are pages and pages long. There also needs to be linguistic processing that uncovers information that the searcher didn't expect to see. That kind of ‘power-search' is not seen as much in the commercial space. It implies that we've had to do very different things with our engine."
There are other classes of application where search is notably central—regulatory compliance and information intensive applications in pharmaceutical, for instance. And once again, vendor selection is becoming, frankly, easier: "A search-derivative application for compliance must measurably and in a quantifiable way adhere to very specific regulations—whether it's HIPAA or SOX. In this case, it's not so much about precision...it's about making sure you don't miss anything."
Compliance and information retrieval needs in pharmaceutical happen to be commercial spaces that track well to Convera's strengths, but there are other, more specifically government and intelligence use cases, that the commercial world is less interested in. For example, multi-lingual capabilities in languages such as Farsi and Chinese and Hebrew. These are, obviously, very interesting to certain government sectors, but you don't see a lot of demand from the typical commercial customer. "That is why we use the expression ‘connecting the dots' when we talk to government customers more than when we address the normal user. It means more to them," says Alkis. It's all about identifying, precisely, what you can do best. Or, as Alkis likes to put it: "Today it is a matter of understanding your search use case." Every other choice flows from there.
Moore is based in Camden, Maine, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org