Intertwingled – a new book from Peter Morville

Water is a very strange chemical. Most people see it as a colourless liquid that is essential to life. As a chemist I am fascinated by its physical and chemical properties and how these give water its distinctive features. After all solid water floats on liquid water. Do you know why? Take a look at the Wikipedia entry for water and I think you will see what I mean. Over forty years ago I moved from chemical science to information science and have never regretted it. As you start to look carefully at information you begin to understand the vast scope of information science and how information, like water, is essential to life. That is not an overstatement. Your DNA, the information about everything you are, is based around the information in a unique coded sequence of just four different amino acids.

Very few people have attempted to explain why and how we create information, and how and why we use it. Alex Wright, James Gleick and Luciano Floridi have made important contributions and now they are joined by Peter Morville with Intertwingled. This book will not help you build a better enterprise social network or design a new information architecture for your website. The key to understanding why you should read Intertwingled is the tag line of “Information Changes Everything”. Peter seeks to explain why this is so and what the implications are for originators and users of information.  He takes the reader on a journey that is only matched by a London taxi driver explaining the street architecture of London and getting you to a destination by a route you will certainly enjoy but would never have thought of using. Along the way you will see both familiar and unfamiliar buildings and spaces.

So it is with this book. I’m not even going to list out the chapter headings. You won’t understand them out of context and you don’t need them to understand the book or justify its purchase. It is a intertwining of Peter’s personal and professional journeys. I know just why he wrote it and have great admiration for his generosity in doing so. This could not have been an easy book to write. It is written by someone with the gifts of a renaissance writer, able to bring together seemingly very disparate elements in creating an illuminating (though not illuminated!) manuscript. You should plan on reading this book several times at the outset of your ownership, and then again at intervals in the future. It will make you think time and time again about how you are using information to communicate and inform and whether there is a better way.  Indirectly you may well end up with a better social network or information architecture.

Peter draws on the work of many writers, thinkers and practitioners in his journey through a world of intertwingled facets of information. I strongly recommend you take the journey with him. So many of us live in the information silos we have created for ourselves, each a “sceptred isle”.  This book will offer you a different perspective on everything that you do because information changes everything.

Martin White

Search does add value to an intranet – the numbers prove it

All to often search seems to be an add-on to an intranet. Days of effort have been expended in development the information architecture. Cards have been sorted, trees hacked to pieces and usability tests have been analysed to the nth degree. Has the same effort been applied to search? Very rarely. The concept of search never features in card sorting, tree analysis or usability tests. All too often when someone uses search in a usability exercise eyebrows are raised and the information architecture is revised to make sure it never happens again. Intranet design developments are largely built on anecdotal evidence. A truly innovative step presented at a conference or in the Intranet Innovation Awards is duplicated without any consideration of whether it is a transferable approach.

I was therefore delighted to see a new series of blogs from Andy Jankowski of Enterprise Strategies in which he applies econometric analysis to the wealth of information now gathered by Andrew Wright from the 200 surveys in his Worldwide Intranet Challenge database.

In the second of his posts Andy has looked at the debate between the respective values of menus and search in intranet content findability. I would recommend you read the complete post to understand the caveats around the analysis but the top line outcomes are as follows, quoting directly from the blog post but with some slight editing for length

“With 95% confidence we conclude that:

      • an increase in ranking “the intranet search helps me find the information I need” results in a higher valuation of the respondents intranet as a whole.
      • the impact for the same question related to menus was statistically insignificant.

So what exactly does this mean? Let’s start with what this does not mean. This does not mean that menus themselves are insignificant, purposeless or should be done away with. It also does not mean that search is the answer to everything. You have to remember what our study is trying to prove and that is which intranet attributes most positively (or negatively) impact users’ perceptions of their intranet. In other words, if you are going to redesign your intranet with the intent of improving user’s perception you invest more time and money on search optimization than refining menu navigation. According to our findings, you will get a bigger positive (user perception) return on your investment”

This investment needs to be in at least one full time search manager. During September both Findwise and AIIM will be publishing search surveys and I have (sadly) little doubt that they will both indicate that the majority of organisations have less than 0.5FTE for search support. Investing in a new or upgraded search application without the people to manage it will be a total waste of money. Recently I was looking at the intranet search of a 30,000+ employee company that prides itself on innovation and product quality. The search was so broken that it was hardly being used at all. The cost to the company of time wasted in emailed or calling colleagues to find information must have been massive, and of course those colleagues would not know the total scale of the information resources of the company. At best probably a few hours a week was being spent by a very small intranet team on search performance enhancement.

This is a very common scenario and hopefully a wider awareness of the analysis undertaken by Enterprise Strategies will provide a good basis for a reconsideration of the value of intranet search.

Martin White


Intranets, culture and Virtual HRD

One of the on-going intranet debates is whether intranets have a role to play in supporting organisational culture. There is a substantial amount of anecdotal information (there always is around intranets!) but very little in the way of well-grounded research. Reading my way through the current issue of Advances in Developing Human Resources I came across a paper entitled How an Intranet Provides Opportunities for Learning Organizational Culture: Implications for Virtual HRD by Dr. Elisabeth Bennett at Northwestern University, Boston. Virtual HRD is defined as “a media rich and culturally relevant web environment that strategically improves expertise, performance, innovation and community building through formal and informal learning”. Elisabeth Bennett, along with Rochell McWhorter (University of Texas) are very much at the forefront of this still novel discipline.

Her paper describes a case study on how the organizational culture in a large community hospital was embedded in an intranet. Twelve managers were interviewed in depth using a semi-structured interview, supplemented by a review of the hospital’s intranet and other contextual information. The primary research question was “how does the intranet provide opportunities for adults to learn organizational culture?” The analysis  indicated that the intranet provided cultural learning opportunities through members (a) experiencing the wider organization, (b) recognizing and rewarding performance, (c) reinforcing organizational expectations, and (d) modelling corporate communication style. Each of these is discussed at some length in the paper in a very practical way and providing a wealth of ideas for any intranet manager to capitalise on.

The overall conclusion is that that cultural knowledge is conveyed and renewed through the intranet. Even though this study is based on just a single organisation the implications for intranet managers are important to consider. Indeed probably the most valuable section of this paper is a set of four questions that in my view could well be the basis of an “away day” between the intranet manager and a group of HR managers that could well lead to a re-evaluation by the HT team of the role of the intranet in supporting organisational culture, especially in larger organisations.

Martin White

Digital workplace workshop – London 24 September 2014

On 24 September I am giving a Digital Workplace workshop for UKeiG, though non-members are most welcome to attend. This will be a ‘technology light’ workshop. I will be concentrating far more on strategy and implementation issues and tailoring the content to the participants. The format will be my usual approach to workshops. I start out asking the participants what they have come to learn and contribute and get the points written down on a flip chart. From this list I develop a workshop agenda on the fly, using some of my rather large collection of PowerPoint slides when appropriate. I’m a firm believer in user-driven workshops, not the sort of workshop where the presenter has 127 slides to get through by the end of the day and leaves 43 of them until the last hour. However I suspect that ‘collaboration’ and possibly ‘virtual working’ will be topics of interest.

Almost certainly new topics will emerge during the morning session, so after lunch I go back to the list to check off closed items and add in new ones. I aim to finish the formal (actually very informal!) session by 16.00 as many participants will be travelling some distance but I’ll then stay on to talk to whoever wants to discuss a particular topic in more depth. Every one gets a copy of the slides a couple of days after the meeting together with a list of the resources I have highlighted in the course of the day.

If you have been to one of my workshops before you know that I offer a life-time guarantee. At any time after the event participants can email me with any questions they have arising from the workshop content and I undertake to respond within two working days. My experience suggests that it is not until participants return to their organisations that they realise that they’ve not asked a particular question or have not fully understood something I was talking about. As far as I know no other workshop presenter offers this guarantee. Over the years perhaps 30 or 40 people have come back to me with queries, and several of those have turned into consulting engagements.

The overall aim is to help participants decide on what actions they should take to get their organisations to consider the benefits and challenges  of implementing a digital workplace and what actions could be taken to move from a vision to a reality. The workshop is not just for ‘large companies’. I’m just in the process of helping one of the world’s leading law firms develop a digital workplace strategy. Smaller organisations are probably in a better position to move towards a digital workplace as the inertia may be less and the benefits more tangible.

I hope this workshop description helps you to decide to come along. My search workshop on October 15 will have the same format.

Martin White

Search workshops and conferences September – December 2014

This blog post lists out the workshops on search implementation that I am giving over the next few months and also some conferences.

First up is the Findwise Findability Day on 11 September, which this year is in Copenhagen. I will be talking about the importance of content quality in achieving high performance search, starting off with a picture of the handwash lotion bottles in the London HQ of a large multinational company and then moving on to one of the most important documents of WWII which was lost for a year.

On 10 October I will be giving a search clinic on the second day of the Hartman Event 2014 in Utrecht. This is always a superb event but this year I am only able to be there for the second day. For my search clinic I will be inviting participants to give me one (or more) challenges they face with their search implementations by the close of the first day of the conference. I will then put together a clinic-style workshop for the Friday morning in which solutions to the problems will be crowd-sourced by the participants with some help from me if necessary.

Next up is a one-day workshop on search implementation in London on 15 October. This is being organised by the UK eInformation Group (UKeiG).  Full details of the workshop can be found on the UKeiG website. Although this will be a more traditional workshop in style there will still be a strong focus on finding solutions to the challenges faced by each participant. Even if you are not a member of UKeiG the cost of workshop is only £245 plus VAT. You may also be interested in a workshop on Digital Workplaces that I am giving for UKeiG on 24 September which is also only £245 plus VAT.

In November I will be talking about digital workplaces and running a discussion session on search at the JBoye Aarhus 2014 conference. This will be the 10th anniversary of the event and bookings are at an all-time high. The networking opportunities at the JBoye events are always very good so I am looking forward to learning as well as presenting.

Although I will only be attending as a delegate I must mention the BCS IRSG Search Solutions conference and workshops in London on 26 and 27 November. This event is always a good blend of academic research and search implementation experience and I always leave at the end of the event with a lot of questions answered and new perspectives on the future of search.

Finally Paul Corney and I will be running a breakfast event from 09.00 to 11.00 at the Royal Society of Arts on 9 December that will be of special interest to managers in law firms. More information will be available in mid-September but if you are interested in how knowledge management and information management good practice can help transform law firms in the face of the major changes that are now taking place then mark your calendar now.

Martin White

Sentiment analysis – a report on a Text Analytics Meetup, London

I’m currently working on the scope of the 2nd edition of ‘Enterprise Search’ and am aware of the very blurred boundary between search and text analytics. Sentiment analysis is a good example. A search application could locate references to specific products in a repository of call centre transcripts but would not be able to indicate whether over time customers were more positive about the performance of the product, to use a very simplistic example. This is where sentiment analysis (sometimes referred to as ‘opinion mining’) has a very important role to play.

Yesterday over 80 attendees listened to two excellent presentations on sentiment analysis at a meeting of the London Text Analytics Meetup Group, sponsored by UXLabs. After excellent refreshments courtesy of the Financial Times, the first speaker was Despo Georgiou, currently a Business Consultant at Atos SE. Her recent MSc dissertation at City University was an examination of the value of two commercial sentiment analysis applications (Semantria and TheySay) and two non-commercial applications (Google Prediction API and WEKA) in analysing documents from the health care sector. This was a very good general introduction on how to conduct application assessments.

She was followed by Dr. Diana Maynard, a Research Fellow in the Computer Science department of Sheffield University. Diane talked mainly about sentiment analysis applied to social media but in a concluding Q&A session proved able to provide a tremendous amount of insight into all aspects of sentiment analysis. Do take a look at Diane’s blog!

For me it was a very valuable meeting and put a lot of fragmented knowledge I have of this area into context. It was the 13th meeting of the Text Analytics Meetup but the first I had attended as a member, and I am looking forward to future meetings. If you want to know more about sentiment analysis a good place to start is to download both the short book on Sentiment Analysis and Opinion Mining by Bing Liu and a recent paper by Eric Cambria on New Avenues in Opinion Mining and Sentiment Analysis.

Martin White

At last, a UK intranet conference

Back in April I blogged about the lack of an independent intranet conference in the UK. Today I agreed to sponsor Intranet Now, styled as an un/conference for intranet and comms managers, which takes place at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Portman Square, London on 2 September. When I set up Intranet Focus Ltd in 1999 I made a conscious decision not to sponsor anything, so the very fact that I have changed my mind after 15 years of business should give you some idea of the importance I attach to the launch of this conference.

The concept was developed by Wedge Black and was almost immediately supported by Brian Lamb. They have acquired a stellar array of both sponsors and speakers and all they need now is a stellar number of delegates. The lunch sponsor is Interact Intranet, which is running its own event in October, so a special mention to Nigel and the team at Interact. Igloo are another lead sponsor. The agenda is a mix of 20 minute papers and 5 minute lightning papers together with some self-organised discussion sessions. Take a look at the agenda to get a full sense of what is on offer. It should be a memorable and stimulating day, and you should leave with a host of good ideas and a significantly larger network.

It is important to realise that Wedge and Brian are one-man businesses, so they have already made a very significant investment in the event. Now is the time for the intranet and internal comms communities to match it by turning up to the event. This  is an intranet conference developed by people who understand intranets, with speakers who have built and managed intranets and a programme full of case studies and lessons learned. What more can you ask for?

The early bird price is just £60 and that offer lasts until 25 July. After that the price is £120. You can book on Eventbrite and there is a Lanyrd page as well. Even if your organisation feels unable to find the ticket price think of it as just over £2 a week (£1 if you are quick!) self-investment in your career for a year. Unbeatable value. Please make the decision to book as quickly as you can and match the commitment of Wedge and Brian to the UK intranet community.

Martin White


Gartner Magic Quadrant 2014 for Enterprise Search

For ten years in my somewhat diversified career I managed large IT market analysis teams, initially for IDC and then for Logica. Preparing vendor analyses was a core element of the work of the teams and we knew that subscribers would read every word and every line between the lines. One highlight was flying in HP’s corporate jet to present an independent view of HP’s server markets to meetings in Lausanne and then Cannes. Those were the days! So I have some idea of the challenges faced by Whit Andrews and Hanns Koehler-Kruener in developing the Gartner MQ for Enterprise Search.

Miles Kehoe has already published an assessment of the report highlighting some of the apparent inconsistencies in the report and I would broadly concur with his comments. Criticisms of the MQ are usually levelled both at the selection of vendors and the comments about the vendors. I was certainly very surprised to see IHS listed when Funnelback was relegated to a passing mention. The exclusion of SharePoint on the basis that it is not sold as an independent product is understandable but skews the analysis as my guess would be that the combined installed base of SharePoint search must make it the most widely adopted of all search applications.  However it is important to remember that Gartner clients are able to talk to Whit and Hanns about their views on the market and that what is released is just a summary of the main outcomes of their research. It must have been a greater challenge than usual this year as open-source applications grow rapidly in sophistication and adoption level.

From my perspective as an independent search consultant the MQ does enable me to have good discussions with clients as all the major vendors are set out in the document and I can add value to the Strengths and Cautions analysis based on my own experience. It also enables me to start discussions about what clients actually want from a search application, and what trade-offs will be acceptable. Sadly the Real Story Group has discontinued its reports on search software and Forrester seems to be ignoring enterprise search, certainly from a vendor comparison viewpoint. Fortunately Dave Schubmehl and his colleagues at IDC track the search and content analytics markets but as with Gartner the reports come with a significant price tag if you are not a subscriber. My overall view is that the search community should be grateful to Gartner for (in effect) releasing the report through some its clients. (I downloaded it from Coveo – thank you!)  It is a good starting point for discussion, and Garter would be the first to emphasise that the published version of the MQ should not be seen as the sum of all the knowledge the consultancy has about this sector.

Martin White

Digital workplaces have suppliers and customers – building digital bridges

Much of what I read about digital workplaces seems to make the assumption that if an organisation reaches the upper levels of digital workplace maturity, especially in terms of enterprise social network adoption, then business and employee performance will be transformed. This is what I see as a  “sceptred isle” approach to digital workplace strategy. In reality every digital workplace depends on building excellent relationships with suppliers and customers and facilitating the flow of information along the entire supply line. A recent column in Forbes by Rawn Shah sums up the importance of these relationships in just 500 words. The column is entitled ‘Building Bridges Beyond Your Corporate Collaboration Island’ and should be pinned to the desktop of anyone engaged in digital workplace strategy and implementation. The second section of the column considers what IBM are doing with Connections to make building these bridges far less of an IT nightmare.

There are also two related reports from Accenture on this topic. ‘Making Cross-Enterprise Collaboration Work’ was published in 2012. In the opinion of the authors of the report, to drive a new era of growth companies will increasingly be required to collaborate with enterprises outside their corporate boundaries. They go on to say that doing so successfully requires coordinated attention to a range of human capital strategy issues covering talent, leadership, culture and organization. The requirement to work with the entire supply chain is also the topic of a recently released Accenture report on the need to link big data analytics.

Many (though by no means enough) organisations conduct employee engagement surveys, and increasingly use these as one of the metrics in assessing the benefits of digital workplace deployment. I would suggest that these surveys need to be extended to the supply chain to see if the organisation is one that others can do business with. It could be that the organisation is far too focused on building a internal collaborative environment which is very difficult for suppliers and customers to take full advantage of. Certainly a digital workplace strategy needs to identify core suppliers and customers and ensure that there are good channels of communication, and even joint application development, to ensure that cross-enterprise collaboration is as effective as it needs to be.

Martin White

An information security manager perspective on search

Varonis is in the business of data and information management application software and over the last few years has made a significant investment in producing surveys and briefing papers on a wide range of information management issues. The company has recently released a short but well written survey of the attitudes of the information security community to enterprise search, based on 300 responses from attendees at two information security events, one in the USA and one in the UK.Overall the level of adoption was only 30%, with a further 8% planning to make an investment in search.

The survey provides a novel security-management focus to the adoption and use of enterprise search. Nearly 70% of the respondents were concerned that users would find information that they did not have permission to see. 30% were concerned that file permissions were not adequate to support enterprise-wide search and a further 30% were not sure. I will admit to not having seen information security as a potential barrier to enterprise search adoption but the results of this survey have caused me to change my mind! Information security is rightly right at the top of IT management issues and the evidence from this survey is that security concerns could trump business advantage when it comes to considering a search investment.

When asked the reasons for not having enterprise search 28% felt it was too expensive, 15% felt it was too difficult to deploy and amazingly 15% felt that native search (surely not Windows?) was good enough. To me this seems to be quite a low level of both expectation and understanding of search in the information security community.

There is a fairly narrow focus to this survey but the initiative of Varonis in undertaking and publishing the research is most welcome because of the insights provided into search from an information security perspective

Martin White