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The Search Struggle: Why We Need Smarter Systems for Finding Information

1 December 2017
Moshe Varsano
A person on a ladder looking through binoculars

Much literature and discussion have focused on the importance of organizational systems for retrieval and search.

With time, relevance becomes increasingly crucial. The volume of digital documents, emails, and other digital content is not decreasing; instead, it is steadily increasing, with the pace accelerating.

Research in this field suggests that individuals collectively spend approximately nine hours per week—equivalent to more than a full working day—searching for documents or files that are not in their designated "natural" location.

Equally crucial is the ability to conduct a unified search that is not limited to specific products. While a document management system is adept at searching within stored documents, it cannot search within emails and is confined by predefined fields.

Outlook can search emails but not other locations. Occasionally, libraries on workstations or networks containing drafts of documents at various stages of writing often go unnoticed. Systems that can search within attachments are almost nonexistent. When discussing search functionality, the immediate association is typically a Google-like search window with a user interface ranging from simple to simplistic.

The search function utilizes what could be termed "the wisdom of the crowds," offering supplementary suggestions derived from popular searches as soon as you begin typing. This feature, similar to Google's, proves particularly helpful. However, when discussing organizational or private searches, the dynamics change. We now deal with our private materials, employing professional phrases and unique terms. We are certainly not inclined to sift through four hundred thousand potential results.

Consequently, a unified search that encompasses everything becomes unparalleled. The relevance of the wisdom of crowds diminishes, as the likelihood of repeating the exact search term multiple times is minimal to nonexistent. Moreover, the simplistic interface becomes a hindrance, as we have no desire to waste additional time sorting through thousands of search results that only partially address our query.

At this point, the interface becomes a significant and critical factor in system efficiency. One-click sorting and filtering capabilities, integrated into the interface, facilitate the reduction of relevant answers, rendering the system efficient and thus helpful.

In the latter part of the first decade of the century, Google introduced a product called Google Desktop Search, ostensibly designed for personal and organizational searches. However, after a few years, Google decided to discontinue the product. It is plausible that the features mentioned above, seen as drawbacks of Google's interface, played a role in the product's failure.

There are few software solutions capable of providing satisfactory results, but the following capabilities can be expected:

  • Unified search (documents, emails, attachments) without location limitations.

  • Robust built-in sorting and filtering capabilities.

  • User-friendly simplicity.

Written by Moshe Varsano, CEO of Scan Doc Ltd., a distributor of enterprise search engines, LOOKEEN.

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