Having notched chapters in my career both in the mainstream internet and the mobile world, an article that blows a fuse on my buzz-meter is nothing new. Dion Hinchcliffe’s Enterprise Web 2.0 post yesterday certainly amps it up: “Are the iPhone and social networks making the classic Web and intranet obsolete?“. But there are some good points here:
Where the point of user attention and interaction resides and who controls it is one of the most important conversations between us and our “preferred intermediaries”, a fancy term for who we like to work with to interact with the Web. This in turn has significant implications for enterprise intranets, our often clunky yet essential local “Web” in our organizations.
So far, so good. Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, iPhone are all raising new questions about how companies and customers connect. But here’s the observation that really caught my eye:
In the end, it’s more about who controls the data, and less where it’s experienced; new user channels strengthens this model. The strategic imperative of Web companies is to own the best class of data and become the indispensable provider for it.
Owning the data and becoming the indispensable provider for it puts a new premium on who controls search, because controlling the data matters only if the right people find it. This is one of the main drivers for more and more providers to chart their own course in dispensing their data by building custom search, using open source enterprise search technologies such as Lucene and Solr. Netflix, Zappos, Myspace, LinkedIn, buy.com and many others use these technologies to build custom search, because in enterprise search, accuracy is king: you must find the right document. In the conventional, ad-driven model search all you just need aggregate yields of clicks, similar to the television advertising model where you have to have enough people who want to drink beer watching the superbowl. Now, controlling the access to the content only counts if the user gets to exactly the information she wants. Customizing search, rather than syndicating it through the conventional search providers, is the name of the game.
MySpace uses Lucene, among other reasons, because they understand that the value of the network is directly proportional to how users find the stuff they want from each other — at massive scale. And personal sports aggregation site Fanfeedr.com takes it one step further by using solr-based search as the basic navigational metaphor; rather than asking you to search for the Yankees every time you want to see the score, it builds a rich graphical presentation of exactly the sports content you asked for, without intermediaries. [You can see both of these innovatores at our Webinar tomorrow].
It’s not merely a commercial trend; the White House now uses open source Drupal (which uses Solr for search) for its website, according to the AP and techpresident.com. The whitehouse.gov implementation also reflects very nicely on the value of open source to creating the shortest path between users and content.
Breathless disruption or tipping point? Too soon to say. But companies are putting their money on open source search because it is the one way they know can really get their users what they want.