Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Fallout from the Google Bomb

Paula's been doing most of the posting lately, because I've been writing a lot of articles on the TOWER Software corporate blog. I've tried to be careful about letting work articles bleed over to this blog, but I couldn't resist this topic.

Simon, in a gutsy, possibly career-limiting move, publicly questioned the reason for TOWER Software's existence. The question he posed is: With search tools like Google available, why bother to organize or file anything? Just let the algorithm find it for you.

This is one of the "big three" strategic challenges that my company faces. I've got it and the other two written on my whiteboard at the office. (No peeking!) We've been thinking about how to address these issues at TOWER Software for quite a while, but it's been an internal discussion.

Not any longer. It's in the blogosphere now; Gordon has already posted his response. Here's mine.

Google is not magic

When Simon titled his controversial article "Why Bother Organizing?" he stated that you could dump all your electronic content into a big pile and have Google sort it out for you later. This is true. But he also implied that organization itself is unnecessary. This is absolutely false.

Google organizes things all the time. That's what it does. "Organizing the World's Information" is Google's mission statement. Google is nothing but a gigantic indexing and organizing engine -- and it has plenty of help.

Google deploys an untold number of automated spiders, crawlers and bots to find information and index it. Google employs a small army of software developers and mathematicians to tweak and maintain the PageRank algorithm. Companies and individuals notify Google when they create their websites. There's an entire industry devoted to helping Google find things.

We're part of it, too. Every time we click on a search result, we're voting on how high Google should place the webpage in its index. Every time we make a hyperlink, we help Google relate information. Every time we write a webpage that includes title and meta tags, we're helping Google organize the web.

Without this massive amount of support and assistance, there's no way that Google could present the results it does. Google search results don't spontaneously appear. Creating order out of chaos requires organization, and organization requires work. That's not a slogan: that's the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

What Simon's really talking about in his post is far more personal: "Why should I have to organize this information?" The magic of Google is not that it creates something (search results) out of nothing (a big heap of disordered junk). The magic of Google is that it has so thoroughly abstracted the hard work of organizing from the end user that technically savvy folks like Simon don't see it happening. Brilliant!

When you look at it this way, the challenge that Simon posed is not really an existential question for TOWER Software and other players in the ECM industry. It's an execution question. The challenge is to dramatically improve the design of ECM solutions so that systems appear to organize the information without human intervention.

1 comment:

Shoobie said...

I had an experience with this just today. Someone said "I'm just gonna take all my files on my C drive and lump them into one big folder. Windows can search the stuff, and I know what it all is anyway. Why hassle with folders at all?" I was pondering about this for a while, but couldn't get around the fact that even if this person did that, a level of organization is still required. At some point, Windows Search will be too ambiguous to find anything accurately, and there has to be some kind of naming convention, otherwise you wouldn't know what it was either. There's a system, even though one thinks there isn't. Big lump piles only make life easy if there is a high degree of control over it.