Part of the challenge is designing a search engine that can explore different kinds of files, not just those of a single application such as Word or Outlook. One small company, Filehand LLC, has created a utility that helps users search their PC for information in PDF, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, WordPerfect, HTML, text, and even MP3 files, with other formats soon to be added.
A related challenge is to be able to search across all the computers within a company, peering into the structured data found in databases and the unstructured data found in spreadsheets, reports, presentations, E-mail, and the like. Verity Inc., a 16-year veteran of the computer industry, has refocused much of its business on what it calls intellectual capital management. In the past, explains Andy Feit, Verity’s senior vice president of marketing, to get an answer to a relatively simple question — “What is the history of our relationship with Acme Corp.?” for example — a user might have to search 5, 10, or even more separate applications and databases. Much of the information may not have even been published on any company site, but instead stored on a private PC or department server. But with Verity’s Federator product, which searches an enterprise network much as Google does the Web, the question could be answered with a single search.
Raytheon Co. found it needed to first hire Verity to analyze its entire data network, essentially telling Raytheon what it had. The company now uses Verity K2 software to provide enterprise search services and Verity’s Data Discovery Program to organize intranet data. The effort is part of the larger Information & Knowledge Management Plan that Raytheon is rolling out this year to its 78,000 employees worldwide. Says Keith Cromack, Raytheon’s director of information services: “Unless you can manage the content better, label it, and give it some context, finding it won’t do you much good.”
Given the hodgepodge of computer systems at use in most companies, however — not to mention an unrelenting information glut — many would settle for simply finding it. Search engines are likely to remain virtually synonymous with Internet use for many years to come.
Peter Krass is president of Petros Consulting and a freelance writer and editor in Brooklyn, New York. He was formerly a senior editor at Inc. magazine, editor-in-chief at Planet IT, and features editor at InformationWeek.
Thinking Small May Pay Off
A potentially huge and largely untapped market is search-related ads from small businesses. There are literally millions of small companies in the United States, and Internet analysts say few of them use such ads. A surprisingly large number don’t even have Websites, relying instead on yellow-pages listings, word of mouth, and local advertising, a business estimated at $18 billion a year. New search features such as personalization and localization could change that — and create a huge new business. Google, Yahoo, and others are hard at work in this space, as are specialized companies. Four-year-old Quigo Technologies has developed artificial-intelligence software that “reverse matches” searches to better understand how people actually find what they’re looking for, helping companies develop better advertising strategies.
Safa Rashtchy of Piper Jaffray & Co. estimates that the number of Internet searches being conducted is rising by 10 percent to 20 percent a year. He believes more than 200,000 companies worldwide have tried online ads, in large part because the cost per sales lead is so much lower online than it is in the “real” world: 45 cents per lead for search-related ads, compared with 55 cents for E-mail, $1.18 for yellow-pages listings, $2 for banner ads, and $9.94 for direct mail. “I would suggest that probably no more than 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies are using search in this way, so there is room for potential growth,” he adds.
Last month Yahoo said it would pursue local advertisers in two ways: by targeting key retailers and other big companies, and through “locator pages” that will direct searchers to small businesses. —P.K.