Is Desktop Search Really a Big Deal ?

There have been tons and tons of articles about the whole desktop search market. Microsoft recently announced their acquisition of Lookout Software, maker of the very slick (and useful) Lookout Toolbar for MS Outlook. Yahoo recently announced their intentions to compete in desktop search as well. And, there is the omnipresent Blinkx application that is garnering all kinds of press. At the end of the day, is desktop search a really big deal?

From my vantage point, I am not sure desktop search is not nearly as big a deal as Internet search for a variety of reasons:

Desktop Search is Really an Index Problem – I don’t think I need algorithmic search to find things on my desktop. The amount of content that I store locally does not grow at anything approaching the rate of content added to the Internet. Note: I am specifically excluding shared network drives that you would find in a corporate environment — the idea of indexing those would give most IT security people all kinds of concerns.

While algorithmic search is important for helping sort through the amount of information on the Internet, I would be happy with a really powerful indexer for my desktop. Most times that I am looking for something on my desktop, a keyword search that I could filter by document type would do the trick. Most time you know what you are looking for (an email that references a certain topic, a PDF with a certain graph, or a PowerPoint presentation made to a certain audience). This is more a question of having a good indexing application more than it is a question of having “Google for my desktop” types of applications.

Desktop Search — Whose Desktop do I Want to Search? – The one application that I would find interesting is the opportunity to use a desktop search agent to get some idea of who else in an organization (or in an opt-in community of friends) has a collection of data that suggests that he/she knows something about a topic of interest to me. Think of it as social networking meets search. These kinds of applications have been around for awhile from vendors such as Tacit Knowledge Systems and Autonomy. While the utility is clear, the access control and privacy implementations are tricky to say the least.

In the end, I have a hard time getting really excited about desktop search as a market. Is it useful? Certainly. But I think we should separate all of the excitement around the competition among the Internet search heavyweights from the opportunity in desktop search.

Comments? Email me at blog @ charleshudson.net