Search User Group Talk

I did a talk for the New England Search Technology (NEST) user group yesterday.  Even though the meetings in Boston are a good 90+ minutes away for me, I try to make the trip there a couple times a year since the topics are usually very relevant to what I’m up to with Sitecore.   I offered to do a talk bridging the Sitecore and Search domains, and they took me up on it.  The audience is typically serious Solr and ElasticSearch technologists, some regular committers to those projects, so it was fun to combine those domains with Sitecore’s relative immaturity when it comes to the platform of search.

I don’t want to just post the powerpoint presentations and say “have at it” since the presentations require context to make sense (and it is 2 different powerpoints to sift through).  I’m a non-conventional guy, and I try to avoid powerpoint with bullet points galore and hyper-structured material.  The talk was more a conversation about search and the challenges unique to search with Sitecore (and other CMS platforms that build on Lucene).

My premise relied heavily on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave where I was a “prisoner” experiencing the world of search through the “cave” of Sitecore.  In reality, search is an enormous space with lots of complexity and innovation across the technology . . . but in terms of Sitecore, we experience a filtered reality (the shadows on the cave wall).  This graphic represents a traditional Allegory of the Cave concept:

cave

I’m not going to summarize the entire talk, but I want to state for the record this isn’t a particular criticism of Sitecore — it’s just the nature of working with a product that is built on top of other products.  In Sitecore’s case with Lucene, for example, there’s a .Net port of Lucene (Lucene.Net) and a custom .Net event pipeline in Sitecore used to orchestrate Lucene.Net activities via an execution context of IIS, and so on.

Understanding Search technology with Sitecore is always going to be filtered through the lens of Sitecore.  My talk was addressing that fact, and how Search (with a capital “S”) is a far broader technology than what is put to use in Sitecore.  Understanding the world of Search beyond the confines of Sitecore can be very revealing, and opens up a lot of opportunity for improving a Sitecore implementation.

I should also note that my talk benefited from insightful input from Sitecore-Coveo Jeff, Tim “Sitecore MVP” Braga, and Al Cole from Lucidworks and others.  The host, Monster.com, shared a great meeting space for us and opened the evening with a quick survey of their specific experience with search using both Solr, Elasticsearch, and their own proprietary technology.

While not specific to Sitecore, one link I wanted to share in particular was the talk about Bloomberg’s 3-year journey with Solr/Lucene; it’s a talk from the Berlin Buzzwords conference a couple weeks ago and thoroughly worth watching.  Getting search right can take persistence and smart analysis, regardless of the platform.  With Sitecore, too often implementations assume Search will just work out of the box and not appreciate that it’s a critical set of features worthy of careful consideration.

I’ll have a few follow-up posts covering more of the points I made in my talk; some lend themselves to distinct blog posts instead of turning this into a sprawling re-hash of the entire evening.

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