Report from Discover 2007

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I had the pleasure to attend Endeca’s annual user conference, Discover, this year. Between the amusing slides about Melvil Dewey, and the performance of a ridiculous song written about Endeca (you think I’m kidding), were numerous lectures, workshops, and demos showcasing many of the interesting goings on in the world of Endeca.

The theme of this year’s conference as espoused in various keynote speeches was “Everyday Discovery”, and the intent is quite clear – Endeca wants to become a pervasive technology. Ten years ago, people would think you were crazy if you talked about “Googling” something, but now, Google has become such an integral part of the information world that it has its own verb. Endeca wants to become that integral.

It’s evident by looking at this conference itself that Endeca is doing quite well. The more than 300 attendees represented companies that ranged from manufacturing companies to financial services firms to government agencies to religious booksellers, who are all using Endeca in some form or another. But amid the usual assortment of customer appreciation awards and spouting of impressive statistics was another theme that wasn’t often said out loud, but whose message was clear – “Endeca is more than just retail search.”

Many of the the latest releases new features speak directly to Endeca’s desire to drive business beyond the retail space where they are already the clear leader. Support for 64-bit architectures and “big-business” platforms like AIX (How many small, or even medium sized, business do you know that run AIX?), virtualization, and advanced management interfaces show an increased and pointed interest in the “behind the firewall” space, where the indexes consist of more than just product catalog data and content, but leverage aspects of hundreds of millions of data-rich business-critical documents.

New advanced features like entity extraction and concept clustering speak clearly to enterprise applications, as well. When you have millions of documents, you can’t capture what’s in them all with a simple taxonomic structure, and if you’re trying to find that needle in a haystack, you need all the help you can get – in short, you want the system to “read” everything before you even get to it, sort and organize it in every possible way, and provide you with the executive summary. That’s what they’re aiming for.

The EQL (Endeca Query Language) drives some of the new features like relationship navigation, which allow you to combine the power of a guided navigation system with the querying power of a traditional relational database. Being able to “browse” your corporate data in fluid and meaningful ways is very powerful, and speaks to one of the long-standing weak spots of relational databases – their usability. Business analysts don’t want to sit around writing SQL queries all day long to answer their questions. EQL has the potential to provide guided navigation for business data the same way Endeca has for retail. “Which of my customers that bought over a million dollars worth of product last year?” wouldn’t be too hard to get a relational database to answer, but as soon as the natural follow-on questions appear, the queries start to get hairy, and there are too many possible questions to know which one might be the important one at any given time. “Now which of those haven’t bought a million dollars worth this year?”“Now which of those are in my segment?”“Now which of those are 50 miles from my office, so I can pay them a personal visit?” You get the idea.

Endeca is hoping that the explicit message of “Everyday Discovery”, combined with their community offerings in the form of EDeN, the Endeca Developer Network, encourages the Endeca user community to help them build the ubiquity that Endeca is looking for. And they plan to combine that exposure with the wealth of new capabilities in the Endeca platform to entice the next set of clients, clients who have enterprise level content, and enterprise level search problems. With Endeca solidifying their enterprise content story, and opening the door for more and more enterprise opportunities, they will be looking to the experts who don’t just know Endeca, but who also know enterprise content.

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