[ Editor's note: Rich Turner was the first place winner in this blog's "Predict the Future of Federated Search" writing contest. His winning essay was published in this month's Computers in Libraries Magazine and Rich participated in a panel discussion on the subject at the recent Computers In Libraries Conference. I asked Rich to share his experience with the contest with blog readers. Below is his response.

Rich Turner is Vice President of Marketing for Content Analyst Company, LLC, in Reston. VA. ]

Rich Turner shares contest experience

Content Analyst Company is a search technology company – albeit a fairly advanced engine, and catering to very specific markets. We track some 100 other search technology companies – as well as a number of blogs on search, and “federatedsearchblog” is one we regularly read.

When the essay contest was originally announced, it was intriguing. As a commercial company, we are usually focused on what our customers are asking for now, and while our roadmap anticipates future requirements and strategies, we don’t often have the opportunity to really think about what the future will be like in a decade.

This was exciting – I’ve been in the technology industry since the dawn of the Macintosh and IBM PC, and witnessed how dramatically technology has changed our everyday lives. I remember when the Internet was the WorldWideWeb and only accessed by a handful of UNIX-savvy engineers. Encouraged by our VP of Engineering, I spent a weekend thinking – and re-thinking – just how different the search world might look in ten years, based on how greatly it changed over the past ten. From that came the essay, which I duly dispatched to Sol Lederman – and returned to the day-to-day business of serving our customers.

I was surprised – perhaps, a little shocked – when I got the news that my essay had won first place! We haven’t focused on technology in libraries, and while as a company we’re very conversant in search (and virtually every credible search company has one or more federation schemes), this was an opportunity to hear how search was applied in a very different market to the ones we serve. It hadn’t really sunk-in until I got an advanced copy of the April Computers in Libraries edition and saw some 300+ people in the audience for our session just how universal the challenge of federated search has become, and how big a deal this essay was.

What I learned was that libraries face unprecedented challenges in these difficult times. They are such venerable institutions (who hasn’t been to a library?) that people (like me) often forget how dependent they are upon public funding. A state or municipality facing huge budget shortfalls will agonize over cuts in public safety and transportation, yet cut library funding without hesitation. Unfortunately, these libraries are the very knowledge resources that people in the middle of career upheaval need to help them move forward. The huge repositories of electronic information that are either maintained by, subscribed to, or tracked by libraries can only be effectively navigated with federated search – an even bigger budgetary obstacle.

We vendors are a universally guilty lot. We have our market “comfort zones,” and are driven by the commercial need to make a profit – that’s not always good for publicly-funded institutions. There is a bright side - commercial businesses face the same challenges that I heard at the CIL 2009 Conference. Business users expect to access information behind company firewalls and from the larger web world using the same tools and with the same consistency. This is driving commercial search providers to create more powerful solutions – and it is driving down the cost of such solutions as they are adopted more broadly. It is this rapid commercialization of technologies like Content Analyst Company’s CAAT product – once exclusively sold only to government intelligence agencies – that will change the technology landscape for information access and benefit the library community.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to think about – and then share – one “vision of the future.” I’m also glad I was able to hear about a different market from the ones I’m in. The similarities and contrasts to our challenges and solutions helps broaden my insights into this evolving and fascinating market of search.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 8th, 2009 at 7:08 am and is filed under viewpoints. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or TrackBack URI from your own site.

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