The title of this post – “People know where to find that, though!” is a very common phrase I hear as the search analyst and the primary search advocate at my company. Another version would be, “Why would someone expect to find that in our enterprise search?”
Why do I hear this so often? I assume that many organizations, like my own, have many custom web applications available on their intranet and even their public site. It is because of that prevalence, combined with a lack of communication between the Business and the Application team, that I hear these phrases so often.
I have (unfortunately!) lost count of the number of times a new web-based application goes into production without anyone even considering the findability of the application and its content (data) within the context of our enterprise search.
Typically, the conversation seems to go something like this:
What did we completely miss in this discussion? Well, no one in the above process (unfortunately) has explicitly asked the question, “Does the content (data) in this site need to be exposed via our enterprise search?” Nor has anyone even asked the more basic question, “Should someone be able to find this application [the "home page" of the application in the context of a web application] via the enterprise search?”
I’ve seen this scenario play out many, many times in just the last few years here. What often happens next depends on the application but includes many of the following symptoms:
The overall effect is likely that the application does not work well with the enterprise search, or possibly that the application is that the application does not hold up to the pressure of the crawler hitting its pages much faster than anticipated (so I end up having to configure the crawler to avoid the application) and ending with yet another set of content that’s basically invisible in search.
Bringing this back around to the title – the response I often get when inquiring about a newly released application is something like, “People will know how to find that content – it’s in this application! Why would this need to be in the enterprise search?”
When I then ask, “Well, how do people know that they even need to navigate to or look in this application?” I’ll get a (virtual) shuffling of feet and shoulder shrugs.
All because of a perpetual lack of asking a few basic questions during a requirements gather stage of a project or (another way to look at it) lack of standards or policies which have “teeth” about the design and development of web application. The unfortunate thing is that, in my experience, if you ask the questions early, it’s typically on the scale of a few hours of a developer’s time to make the application work at least reasonably well with any crawler-based search engine. Unfortunately, because I often don’t find out about an application until after it’s in production, it then becomes a significant obstacle to get any changes made like this.
I’ll write more in a future post about the standards I have worked to establish (which are making some headway into adoption, finally!) to avoid this.
Edit: I’ve now posted the standards as mentioned above – you can find them in my post Standards to Improve Findability in Enterprise Applications.