Wednesday, July 20, 2011

MOS 5.3: Search and Knowledge

After my initial MOS 5.3 post, I received some most excellent feedback and an opportunity to speak with Jan Syssauw. He was exceedingly gracious and honored me with a 1-hour phone conference in which we covered many different aspects of Search. In response, I thought it would only be appropriate to follow up here.

I have a lot of respect for Jan (pronounced Yan). He is a very good listener and has a very professional demeanor, accepting my comments (and sometimes criticism) without belying how personally he cares for his team and his product. And yet he does - Jan very much wants Search and the KB to be an awesome experience, so I appreciate that he is reaching out to see what at least one user thinks.

In retrospect, I think I may have disproportionately emphasized certain features or areas by leveling the playing field (from my point of view) and perhaps giving the impression that I thought all areas were equal and required an equal degree of attention. Let me say that I wish to correct this. :) And I'll focus first on what I think the big issues are, and leave the small things for another time.

Search Suggestions

First and foremost, "Search Suggestions" are a huge improvement. I initially called these "type-ahead" or "autofill", but the proper term (so I have learned) is "search suggestions". I really like the direction they are going with this. We talked about some of the nuances; for example, the issue with versions I raised in my initial post (typing "Oracle server ent" gives me several suggestions, but none of them are 11g and only one is 10g). The reason Jan gave for this was that there are lots of suggestions that kind of fall off the end of the list - if I set my preferences to see only 5 "search suggestions", then even more of those suggestions would fall off the list. Jan hopes that the more popular and more relevant suggestions will start to percolate to the top of the suggestion list. I still find it odd that Oracle 7.3 would supercede 11g.... *grin*

Need for Speed

Ok, so FLASH is REALLY slow for me, and I REALLY do not like the way FLASH was implemented for MOS. However, setting FLASH aside and focusing on Search, I was struck again by a need for speed. I think these are both very related, but I am going to break it into two different paragraphs to help spell it out.

First, there are times when typing in a somewhat generic term (ie, "install"), I have to wait several seconds (I counted 9 seconds to retrieve 1.1 million records). What about first_rows_k?? *grin* Seriously, Oracle's flagship product is supposed to be the database, and they call themselves the "Information Company". While 9 seconds out of my life is peanuts, other companies (do I need to spell it out?) don't have you sitting around for a few seconds wondering how your fingernails got a little dirty. I have even filed a bug on a case where you can do a search on nothing and the backend server times out - as if I wanted to see every single document. *laugh*

Second, Jan mentioned a couple times when we were talking about setting limits for maximum number of Search Suggestions and Number of Records to Display that setting the limit higher would negatively impact performance. How much? If I want, let's get extreme, 100 search suggestions and 1000 results per page, will my search slow down to 10 seconds, or 10 minutes?

Search needs to be fast! Freakishly fast. They need Jimmy Johns to come and tell them about fast! *grin*

Preferences, options, filters....

This one is quite tricky, and I partially found the right words when I spoke to Jan and I hope I communicated it clear enough. I and other customers have asked for more options, more flexibility, more controls. And by golly, Oracle delivered! We know have Preferences, various ways to set filters via PowerView, Product, Task/Intent, etc. In my opinion, the way these options are presented to the user are a bit confusing. Take for example PowerViews. PowerViews came out a little while ago (MOS 5.1, 5.2?) and thus are a separate form of customization than, say, refining a search via the Knowledge Browser options (by Product, Task, etc). If I set a PowerView to view only Solaris platforms, that affects all my searches. So even though the PowerView summary is at the top of the page, I often forget I have a PowerView set and I rather puzzled when various search results are filtered out. Imagine trying to look for patches specific to Red Hat if you have a PowerView set for Solaris. :)

I do think it is awesome that Oracle is giving us, the customer, this much flexibility and control, and I applaud that. I only hope that we can work together to make the presentation of that power and flexibility more aesthetic and easier to grasp. In some ways, it is almost like going from a FPS game with simple controls to a Flight Simulator with tons of controls. I think this issue will be a matter of acclimation and user training for advanced users that want to take advantage of such knobs and levers; all other users wanting a quick, "just get me the results like Google" approach should not have to worry about these extra bells and whistles. Perhaps one possible way to approach this is to have an "Advanced Search" preference, and consolidate all such advanced features in one area. Maybe. At the very least, have the one preference to toggle the kitchen sink on and off. :)

And some lower-priority items

Some other low-hanging fruit we can take advantage of might be to reduce confusing by consolidating the use of "Task" and "Intent". My guess is that a bunch of folks got together and brainstormed on what to call this, but could not come to a final decision without offending others, so they compromised. :) So I will say, as one customer, just call them Tasks. Forget about "Intent". In my mind, "intent" sounds like you want to practice your ESP or something. But you knew that before I typed it, right....

Redo the way an article is displayed. For a while now, the articles slide in from right to left, squeezing the left-hand side. Either get rid of that effect, or make it happen in .4 seconds max.

I like the "intent" (tongue in cheek) behind the "auto-detection" features. When on the conference with Jan, he demonstrated what this auto-detection is currently doing; for example, if you type "install" in the search box, you wait a few seconds than get a screenful of suggested articles. At the top of the list is a box asking you to clarify your intent (hmm... there is that word again), which can be used to help filter results. A similar thing happens if you search for database (refine by product, for example). This is somewhat similar to what we developed at "The Bridge".

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