Open Source solutions bypass the ‘black box’ mentality

The recent high-profile bidding war for Yahoo by Microsoft and News International has once again prompted people to question the wisdom of allowing single companies to dominate our information-based society with closed systems. Monopolies are rarely good for any industry.

Companies such as Google have long traded on the sophistication of their search algorithms. These are the search industry’s equivalent of ‘The Colonel’s Secret Recipe’. Such algorithms, and the myths that grow around them, are perceived to safeguard competitive advantage and are jealously guarded.

Concern regarding search monopolies is not only aimed at pure web search. In fact that which is feared to happen within web search has already happened within much of the enterprise search industry. Yahoo’s heavy-duty courter, Microsoft, has recently initiated a buy-up of the much-respected $1.2 billion FAST Search, Autonomy fully absorbed search giant Verity, which in its turn had swallowed up Inktomi a few years earlier.

These are companies whose search technology many people will use on a daily basis. As more of this search technology is controlled by fewer and fewer big corporations CTOs, want to know what big companies like these are doing with their data, and how are they doing it?

The world is moving towards a point where search technology is the primary gateway to information, and companies that provide search technology generally provide a helpful service.

If more potential customers can find your product in a speedy and accurate way, this can only be positive, right? This is the premise behind much of the internet revolution and is, to many, unquestionable.

However, nowadays the quantities of data to be searched are vast. Data is proliferating, search terms are becoming longer and more complex, and the search patterns, habits and requirements of businesses and consumers are becoming more varied. No longer do we exist in a society where ‘one search fits all’.

Under these circumstances many CTOs find it difficult to entirely trust the current ‘black box’ way of buying into search services. In determining the accuracy of any given search engine, all we have to go in is measuring the results outputted against the search terms entered.

We believe the only way to be sure that search results are complete and correct is to rely on open-source principles, where the source code of the software is freely available and can be built on and improved by a world wide community.

Not only does this provide you with total transparency, but it also gives you the freedom to modify the code at work on your information.

In keeping with the truest spirit of free enterprise, if you want your search engine to give you a competitive advantage, you can build that competitive advantage yourself, rather than searching in the way you’re told to.

Even better, while developed code is often contributed back to the open source community, constantly improving future search abilities, companies also have the option of retaining their own code ‘add-ons’ in-house to maintain that competitive advantage.

Intelligent companies seek out the freedom to search their own information in their own way. Intelligently built, fluid and accessible code can deliver much better performance.

Flexible, powerful solutions such as this often prove more popular with big businesses for the very reason that the client can observe and tailor how their information is being handled. We have had a great deal of success with large ecommerce companies for the simple reason that they can construct highly specialised, real-time search engines that maximise revenues.

However it's unlikely that the 'black box' way of thinking will die off any time soon. After all, as the saying goes, ‘no-one ever gets fired for hiring IBM’. People will always have an attraction towards large, well-known brands; even if this means getting a less flexible solution.