Your Parent’s World is Not Your World

So, day one of London’s Taxonomy Bootcamp 2019 is well under way.  Every day is a school day, so I am taking in a lot of information from the very interesting and informative sessions so far. Not least is Emma Chittenden’s keynote, “That word you keep using? I don’t think you know what it means”, a Technologist, Taxonomist & Founder from Angels Playing Skittles, UK and someone I know well, Charlie Hull, who is leading a session about enhancing search relevance.

In two hours, I will present my session, “How technological innovation is changing the way we do things – your parent’s world is not your world” and as the butterflies slowly start to assemble in my stomach and the excitement begins to grow, I have taken a few moments out to run through my slides (for the 90th time) and to write a short blog.

I am delighted to have been chosen to speak at London’s Taxonomy Bootcamp as I always consider speaking opportunities a privilege. You have been selected to share your thoughts, ideas, stories and perspectives with other people across your industry who take time out of their busy “day jobs” to attend. The work will still be there when we return on Thursday!

Time is precious, everyone always has a million and one jobs to do, so I am lucky to work for an organisation that permits time for me to attend and speak at brilliant events such as the Taxonomy Bootcamp.

The World Has Changed

Yesterday, I travelled on the train down to the big smoke and as I looked around the train, nearly everyone was on their mobile phones, watching something on an iPad (other devices are available – I hasten to add) or like me, working on a laptop. There is no way in the world that my mother and father would have experienced this on their journeys to work – some twenty years ago. Of course, they are still spring chickens and not that old that mobile phones didn’t exist, (maybe not the iPad) and certainly laptops were around, but you almost needed a suitcase to port laptops and mobiles from one room to another, never mind use it whilst in transit.

“Your Parent’s World is Not Your World” is such an apt sentence – of course it isn’t and “My work will not be my children’s world”

The way we live (and work) and of course, technology is advancing at such an astonishing rate. Today, people’s expectations are stratospheric. Nobody settles for mediocracy. Especially within the workplace. Google is 21 years old, so it was in its primitive years when my parents were at the height of their working powers. It is now seen as the crème de la crème of search (or certainly up there) but some twenty (ish) years ago, few could have imagined the impact that it would have on the world– certainly not my mum and dad. Even fewer people can honestly say that they envisaged the impact that internet-like search experiences (frankly because they didn’t exist) would have on search in the workplace.

But let me be clear when I say, “the impact that internet-like search experiences would have on search in the workplace”, of course it is having a huge and positive impact but equally, is it almost setting an unprecedented, unrealistic expectation for people using their workplace search applications?

I believe that sites like Google have been game changers – “crème de la crème”, as I mentioned but equally, these are multi billion pounds/dollar/euro organisations that have thousands (and I mean) thousands of employees fine tine tuning search engines to provide the most relevant results to people.

Is “Internet-like Search” Achievable in the Workplace?

Of course it is, but tackling it in the same way that Google and other websites do, is unlikely.

For organisations, one piece of this process is content classification and tagging content with the most relevant and correct metadata. This helps ensure that applicable content is returned to the end user. The question that I am most often asked is – what is the best way to do this – and, this is the debate. We have all this technology around us, yet thousands of years after Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, first classified organisms, organisations are literally still spending many days, weeks and months manually creating taxonomies. Is this really the most effective way of creating taxonomies? Is it still feasible to manually tag all your content or can AI help with classification?

So back in April, when preparing my submission for this year’s Taxonomy Bootcamp, I thought that as many organisations are asking the same questions, striving for the same goal but suffering the same pains – why not share some real-world experiences of how we (BA Insight) have helped to reduce, but more often than not, eliminate these users’ “poor search experiences and frustrations”.

In previous years at the bootcamp, I have looked at the role search plays within an organisation, what the key elements of a search team are and why enterprise search often fails within an organisation. This year, given the rapidly changing world of technology, my focus is more on the impact that Artificial Intelligence is having on classification.

Taxonomy Bootcamp 2019

Using real world examples of projects that I have worked on as a technical professional here at BA Insight, I am going to share some of the frustrations experienced, such as:-

  • Manual tagging not working/takes too long – It takes a lot of effort to define rule-based auto tagging since there are a lot of business elements to consider. Even if we invest this effort now, in six months a lot might change, and we need continuous effort to maintain these rules up to date. It’s not feasible with huge taxonomies of 30,000+ nodes
  • Content that is not correctly tagged – we have all seen this, been there, got the t-shirt and read the book. It happens in nearly every organisation. People don’t understand the benefits and don’t like doing it.
  • User complaints and poor search experiences – we have all heard users say – “search doesn’t work”, “it’s rubbish”, “I can never find what I am looking for”, etc.

I will explain:

  • How technological innovation is making manual tagging a thing of the past
  • Why there is still a place for rules-driven classification?
  • The world (and technologies) of self-generating taxonomies and the effects that it is having on users’ search experiences.
  • Automatically tagging documents by training systems based on existing content can produce viable results.
  • How all of this is impacting Enterprise Search?

As I apply the final touches to this blog, my mind begins to wander and wonder; what AI technological developments could emerge in the next six months and how that could change our approach to classification even further. For me, it is certainly an exciting generation to be growing up in – although, I’m sure my parents said the same and future generations will claim that their generation is equally, if not better. One thing is for sure, we don’t know what we don’t know, but it appears that everything is advancing and in my opinion for the better.