More needles, more Haystacks, more relevance!

Those of us who have been working in the search sector for a while know that search tuning isn’t just a matter of installing the default configuration, pointing the engine at some content and starting it up – in fact, if you do just that you’ll probably end up with a search user experience that’s even worse then whatever you’re replacing and certainly a lot worse than your competitors’ solution. It’s also no longer about just knowing how one engine behaves and the magic tweaks to improve it – you need to understand the fundamentals of search and how a range of different products and projects implement this. You also need to understand user requirements and their often entirely subjective views of what is a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ search result, plus how different types of businesses can use search technology for site search, enterprise search, media monitoring, process improvement and myriad of other uses.

Over the last year or so we’ve seen the emergence of a new profession dedicated to improving how search systems present information to users – Relevance Engineering. Importantly this covers not just the technical aspects of search, but the business aspects – understanding the why as much as the how. Relevance engineers understand that search tuning is a multifaceted problem and there are no magic bullets (or magic AI robots) that will do all the work for you. I’ve started to write about relevance engineering recently to try and define what it means.

One of my favourite events last year was the first Haystack conference run by our partners Open Source Connections, which brought together both experienced relevance engineers and those new to the profession. It was friendly, informal, focused and informative. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that by the second day I was already thinking about how to bring the event to Europe – which we did successfully in October.

I’m very happy to say that Haystack is back in April 2019 and the Call for Papers is open until January 9th. If you’ve got an exciting relevance project or idea to talk about please do submit it. See you there!

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