Spoiler alert – this is a review of a book published in 2006!
First a short history lesson. FAST Search and Transfer was founded in 1997 to commercialize search technology developed at the University of Trondheim. The subsequent history of FAST is difficult to untangle as the company seemed adept at delivering some very neat search technology and raising question-marks about its accounting practices. The end-game was the acquisition of the company by Microsoft in 2008 for $1.2 billion, followed by an inquest about the extent of the due diligence that was mirrored a few years later with HP’s acquisition of Autonomy. The core of the company lives on as the Microsoft Technology Centre in Oslo and a global group of alumni who worked for the company and left to either work for other companies or start their own business.
FAST was also very good at marketing. One of the outcomes was The Book of Search published in 2006. The quality of the content and the presentation of this 142pp book are both exceptional. To quote from the Introduction
“The best of breed [search] solutions are built as platforms with many levers that make them exceptionally flexible, powerful and user-friendly for a wide range of applications. The goal if [sic] this book is to explore some of these levers and to provide advice on how they can best be exploited”.
The first six chapters are written for business managers, setting out what the technologies of search (such as linguistics, query and result processing, business rules, search relevance and usability) offer in a business context. Then there are five chapters for IT managers setting out the implications of integration, security, availability, performance, reporting and benchmarking. To be sure the technology has changed over the last 16 years but not as much as you might have anticipated. It remains an admirable introduction to enterprise search for business and IT managers trying to solve information discovery challenges and in particular for IT students trying to understand the potential value of enterprise search when little attention has been paid to the fundamentals in their undergraduate course, and even less on search implementation. A remarkable aspect of the book is that there is no element of vendor-promotion in the text.
There are two other books on enterprise search, my own book published in 2015 and Searching the Enterprise by Charlie Hull and Udo Kruschwitz but in my opinion the Book of Search still has a value because of its strong focus on business impacts and search management challenges.
I have long assumed that the book disappeared along with FAST but recently discovered it on the web site of Silvija Seres, at one time Vice President of Product Marketing for Fast, from where it is possible to download a high-quality PDF version.