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Hoarding: Buried Alive! (by Data)

 By Bill Fowler, Technical Consultant, Search Technologies


I was watching one of my current favorite TV shows last night, "Hoarding: Buried Alive!"

Being buried alive by a hoard of stuff is a great metaphor for our lives in technology, in our case it is hoards of information. In fact, the inability to deal with all the information and data that is available to us in our daily lives has become something of a cliche. Especially for those of us who are in the enterprise search business - the business of finding relevant information in those hoards of data. Finding "the needle in the haystack" is often the figure of speech we use but perhaps with the popularity of "Hoarding: Buried Alive" and the similar "Hoarders," we can exchange a 19th century idiom for something of our generation like "trying to find a clean fork in a hoarders kitchen."

In last night's episode, I was struck by a hoarder who stood in front of a filthy kitchen sink piled high with dirty dishes and said simply:

"I am absolutely overwhelmed by this, I just don't know where to start." 

A few days ago I participated in a workshop with a new customer to plan their first Enterprise Search initiative. We spent a good deal of time covering security, their content management systems and potential Enterprise Search vendors. During a break towards the end of the meeting, the project manager leaned over to me and said:

"I am absolutely overwhelmed by this, I just don't know where to start." 

This is a surprisingly common admission. The answer is that, yes, it does seem overwhelming but, in fact, my customer has already made a good start by asking Search Technologies for help. We know exactly how to start an Enterprise Search project. In this case, we were performing an Enterprise Search Assessment based upon our award-winning assessment methodology. Our assessments are comprehensive analyses of all elements of enterprise search as applied to our client, including an inventory of sources, security models, general and special search requirements and much more. It is the right way to start or greatly enhance an organization's enterprise search initiative.

I would also point out that our hoarder also had made a good start, though I think hers was initiated by the local code enforcement agency.

"I'm Matt Paxton and I'm an extreme cleaning specialist." 

Matt is a recurring character on the "Hoarders" show and he always introduces himself this way in a camera facing soliloquy over a subtitle that reads: "Matt Paxton, Extreme Cleaning Specialist." Matt is the guy who runs the cleanup crew, but he actually looks more like an actor who was lucky enough to find a really cool gig on a reality TV show. Also, I think early in the first season he was some other kind of specialist, though I don't recall what it was.

Matt represents the hard-nosed disciplinarian who pushes the hoarder to get rid of stuff. He is the man with a plan and the discipline not to get distracted by the ever present turmoil in the hoarders home. He is the counterpoint to the clinical psychologist who mostly provides emotional support and sympathy for the hoarders predicament.

The hoarder may need psychotherapy, but more than anything they need someone like Matt to tell them flat out that the used fast food container they are obsessing about is trash and not the makings of some future art project. He is also the guy who does the dirty work with gloves, a shovel and occasionally a full on hazmat suit.

Some of my enterprise customers need organizational therapy (and BTW, they are always the first to point that out), but mostly they need a plan and the discipline to act on that plan. So, in some ways, I think of myself as Search Technologies' Matt Paxton. Search Technologies has a method for developing a project plan that will help you achieve your goal of taming the hoards of information you have and provide the search solution you require. And we have the discipline and patience to see the project through, whatever barriers are uncovered in the process. And there are often many. And we have the resources to do "the dirty work" of implementation at all levels from configuring a GSA, to designing and building a new Web interface for search, to developing a search connector to a home grown CMS.

"And I guess it just got out of hand." 

It is hard to imagine how a house comes to be filled half way to the ceiling with trash and worthless objects. Occasionally a hoarder will say something like, "Well, we stopped putting our things away. And I guess it just got out of hand."

Many of our customers would like to include file systems and other similar 'unmanaged' or 'barely managed' content sources in their enterprise search. And most say that their file shares are "really out of hand" from the standpoint of content management. There is no doubt that most file shares have very valuable content. But since it is unmanaged, it is hard to visualize exactly how to provide effective search access to it. Sheer numbers are a huge barrier as well as the sense that no one knows what content actually exists. And the practice of always adding disk capacity to meet user demands, while necessary, actually makes the problem worse. Adding disk capacity to meet user needs is an example of letting content "get out of hand."

We often are asked to help provide search through file shares containing hundreds of thousands, even millions of files. I don't think anyone managing access to hundreds of thousands of files in a set of file shares could feel totally in control of all of that content.

Search Technologies does not have a magic bullet for file shares. But we do have experience in bringing file shares and other unmanaged or barely managed content into Enterprise Search solutions. We have methods for adding useful metadata to file share documents and have proven the value of results navigation for file shares. Search Technologies has even developed the "Enterprise Browser" search model, that lets search users navigate file shares using the actual folder hierarchy, but showing only relevant and security trimmed documents.

I sometimes put something down, not in its right place, but just somewhere convenient "for a minute." It dawns on me that this could be that first slip down the slippery slope to becoming a full blown Class 5 hoarder. I might just be putting something down for a minute, but what if it "just got out of hand?"


Robin's open-toed kicks

Another regularly appearing character on Hoarders is Robin Zasio, who tells us in her soliloquy that she is "a clinical psychologist specializing in OCD and hoarding." She is very much Matt's counterbalance when they appear together. One thing I notice about Robin is that she wears very stylish open-toed heels when she first visits a hoarder. The shoes always have a bit of fashion detailing that add color or bling to give her outfit a little "pop." I notice this because I am also a big fan of "What Not to Wear" and other fashion-oriented reality shows. They look great, but walking through the house of a Class 5 hoarder in open-toed shoes is appalling. I think navigating such a home wearing heels also presents a significant danger. I would like to warn Robin about this, I would hate to see her sprain an ankle or to become infected with some kind of horrible fungus or mold.

But that just seems overwhelming and I don't really know where to begin.


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