We hope you pardon us for waxing philosophical, but this weekend we were reminded of John Battelle’s classic, The Search. It’s a book that explores not just the inner workings of Google’s triumphant business in consumer search but also the primary asset that the company was building: a massive “database of intentions” – an unmatched aggregation of what people around the planet are thinking, dreaming, declaring, at any given time of day.  That’s the power, said Battelle, of consumer search. It’s the power behind Google’s mighty advertising engine.  By continually breaking ground in ways to monetize its database of intentions, Google persists today as one of the consumer technology market’s greatest success stories.

With no disrespect to Google or the consumer search category, we thought it might be time to ask, “if the chief asset of consumer search is a ‘database of intentions’, what is the chief asset of enterprise search?”  More precisely, what is the chief asset of open enterprise search?  They’re fundamentally different in a few ways.

1)    The first, and most obvious, is that the technology asset is different.  Let’s look at the data.  In the world of consumer search, text is the main thing.  But in the world of enterprise search, it’s about structured and unstructured content from a vast array of sources.  Both the volume and complexity of data in enterprise search is staggering.  The technology that makes the discovery, aggregation and comprehension of all this data happen is different than that of its consumer counterpart.

2)    Second, there’s a profound difference in the value of the data that, say, Google aggregates contrasted against what any enterprise might aggregate.  Google is in the business of using its data to create advertising revenue, so it’s easy to see consumer intention as the thing to leverage.  But enterprises may have many different business models that enterprise search could potentially support. The promise of big data, we are often told, is to unleash possibilities.  The world of enterprise search is helping to make that promise a reality. If Google creates a database of intention, enterprises create databases of possibility.

3)    But for us, there’s an even more profound difference between consumer search and enterprise search:  the protagonist – or hero – in the story.  In Battelle’s book, one might argue that the consumer is the protagonist.  After all, it was the empowerment of the consumer that made businesses like Google possible.  But The Search was also a tribute to an enterprise serving consumers, and that enterprise was Google.

In the world of enterprise search, there are many enterprises to pay tribute to, with many different business models serving many empowered customers.  And the fact that many of these enterprises are learning from one another through the power of open source enables them to act on their stories faster and with greater confidence.   It’s not about creating a lot of Googles.  It’s more about a community of organizations lifting themselves with the kind of data-driven power that got everyone’s attention when Battelle first wrote his book.   This year’s Lucene/Solr Revolution will bring that community together and provide knowledge and resources to help propel it forward.