Blogger: Larry Cannell
This past week we’ve seen some attention-getting news from both Autonomy (buying Interwoven) and Microsoft (John Lervik, the FAST CEO is resigning). What you may have missed in all of the hubbub was an announcement about Lucid Imagination. This is a startup which recently received funding to compete in the enterprise search market by providing commercial support for the open source search solutions Lucene and Solr.
In a Burton Group report published last year we highlighted Lucene as an example of an innovative open source product. However, it doesn’t yet have a significant presence in the enterprise market. Lucid Imagination is out to change that.
I should note that Lucene is not an application. Rather, Lucene is a set of Java functions that provide indexing capabilities, which applications can use. It’s not a free enterprise search product that you just download, install, and run like, for example, Wordpress, an open source blogging platform.
Lucid Imagination will provide support for both Lucene and Solr (a younger open source project which extends Lucene). Together they are an indexing engine with a web service interface and frameworks for building search capabilities. These can be used for creating standalone enterprise search sites but may be more valuable for adding search capabilities to vertical applications.
This is not just simple google-style search too. In addition to a number of other capabilities, Solr extends Lucene by enabling the use of faceted search, a compelling approach to information retrieval that is quite powerful. If you are interested in learning more, the Lucid Imagination site has a good example of faceted search. They’ve indexed a number of the Lucene and Solr project websites and provide a faceted search interface to browse across all of them.
I think Lucid Imagination’s approach of supporting developers leveraging their search capabilities, may be a good strategy. First, it would be hard to disrupt a market that already has a low-cost solution like the Google Mini. In addition, this approach provides Lucid opportunities for revenue streams from consulting and project work, buying them time while they continue enhancing core Lucene and Solr capabilities and building a community. In my opinion, this is key. Commercial open source companies based on existing projects must be a leader in the project’s community and this approach may have a better chance of strengthening, even building a larger, more sustainable Lucene/Solr community.
Open source communities can be fabulous sources of innovation, if they are able to sustain themselves. One of the keys to success for an open source community is motivating others to join in and be willing to compete on features which extend the core product. In this case this could mean (instead of competing on the building blocks of search) competing on things such as user experience, navigation, and supporting new types of “content.” This includes, of course, multimedia content but might also include adding faceted search capabilities to applications with structured data sources too.
Lucid Imagination is an interesting company to keep your eye on. But I think the key will be to watch the Lucene/Solr community. If it grows then it’s likely Lucid will too.