“Engage your users” was indeed an important message being sent by Microsoft/FAST at this years conference, examples being drawn from sites like Twitter and Facebook. However, Microsoft’s software and road-map did not entirely reflect this message in the online space, leaving customers working out the path for their products or sites themselves. Improvements were shown on the Enterprise side with demos of SharePoint solutions focused around people instead of business documents.
The documents are dead, claims analyst Sue Feldman and a panel of forward-thinking bloggers. When users are forced to type into a search box, they are already on a set path. Instead of focusing on the search box, we should be focusing on the action leading up to the search. Examples were drawn saying that we are “moving our warehouses and boxes into the electronic space”.
Microsoft is still focusing on documents around the aging Office application suite integrated with SharePoint. However, the Microsoft Surface is experimenting with new ways of handling information and new ways of visualizing and acting on search results. Examples were shown where known search elements like navigators (facets) and filters were applied to the search using drag-and-drop hand motions.
Microsoft/FAST showed some promising improvements on the technical side with Content Integration Studio (CIS), long-awaited by FAST technical enthusiasts. CIS’ main focus is to simplify the process of getting information into your search index. Sources of data (readers), operators (like filters or data-manipulating steps) combined with output methods (writers) could form powerful work-flows that could write to the search index or to files like spelling dictionaries. CIS helps you do powerful data manipulation and lets you monitor data flow in “real time”. Customers running FAST ESP on Unix will have to add a Windows node to the puzzle, in order to take advantage of CIS. Doubts arise around Microsofts incentive to focus on multiple platforms in the long run.
There are so many aspects and ideas that we had to leave out as we conclude this years coverage of FASTforward, but we will continue to keep you updated on the search business, user experience and technology.