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On FAST

By - January 14, 2006

FastI’ve spent a bit of time in the past few weeks getting to know FAST Search and Transfer, the company that, prior to my recent conversations, I best knew as “that Norwegian company that sold alltheweb.com to Overture.”

As I wrote in my book and elsewhere on this site, I’ve not exactly been a huge fan of enterprise search. Save my long diversion into WebFountain, I’ve pretty much focused on the consumer space. SEW’s Gary Price, on the other hand, has been declaring the importance of enterprise search, and in particular FAST, for a long time.

So when the folks at FAST called me and asked if I’d speak to them about their new products, and perhaps even come to their conference next month and give a talk, I thought it was high time I listened. I accepted their invitation and I spent some time on the phone with them recently. The result: I got smarter about FAST, and we also agreed to a partnership: FAST is marketing its event through my publishing company FM. I’m pleased that FAST is offering a discount to its conference for Searchblog readers – of nearly 30%, no less – because of that partnership. (I mention this because it’s my policy to disclose any dealings I might have with companies in Searchblog’s space. They are few and far between, and if they do happen, they happen because I personally believe in the quality of the company I’m working with, and on the condition that I disclose them here.)

I’ll write up my thoughts in more detail after the conference, but I did come away from my initial talks with FAST’s CTO and other executives convinced that many of the more difficult problems of search – user interface, for example, or structured data search - are being attacked in interesting ways in the enterprise. And I realized that my definition of enterprise search was too narrow – as consumers, we touch it every day.

The conference will be addressing many of these issues, focusing on real world examples. And there are tons of them. If you accept the premise that search is becoming the de facto navigational interface to the web, enterprise search picks up where Google et al leave off – once you get to a site like Career Builder, or The New York Times, or Dell, or hundreds of others – a company like FAST takes over. In other words, it’s not just for intranets anymore, and enterprise search has much to teach us about where giants like Google and Yahoo might be headed next.

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  • JG

    I did come away from my initial talks with FAST’s CTO and other executives convinced that many of the more difficult problems of search – user interface, for example, or structured data search – are being attacked in interesting ways in the enterprise.

    What I’ve always wondered is why, when techniques like relevance feedback have been known about since the 1960s (Gerald Salton has some pioneering work on the matter), it still isn’t available to us from the top web search engine companies. It is trivial to design an interface that collects up/down feedback from the user on, say, the top 10 returned documents, and then uses that feedback to better let the user “steering wheel” his way through the millions of returned documents. That sort of feedback is the true first step at personalization.

    And yet, GYM thinks that it is more important to release uber-beta versions of video search, or to update the set of emoticons in a chat program, than to move beyond the command line (small box) + ranked list interface?

    I guess what I’m asking is: If enterprise search really is picking up where Google et al leave off, why did they leave off there? With all the innovation that is happening, they’ve had years to implement some very well-known ideas. And yet they have all chosen not to.

    Why? Why are they all moving so slowly on this? Does anyone have a sense of this?

  • grumpysecretary

    I’ve noticed that Media News Group is rolling out FAST on their entire network of newspaper sites. That’s more than 100. Looks like FAST will have the online newspaper sector all locked up soon! One more example of how Google has lost it’s focus.

  • Jose I. Icaza

    http://www.business.no/artikkel_fast_search.htm is an interesting 2003 academic business case on FAST. Marketing-jargon-free description of FAST’s technology vs. those of its main competitors Autonomy, Verity and Convera. Got the link from Wikipedia’s stub on FAST.

  • StellaH

    Interesting postings on F. It obviously has a really big name here,andthey’ve been very successful. But as someone with friends who have invested huge sums in Opticom, I think there are some extremely worrying reports in the press. Espen Linderud, a reporter at a Norwegian paper, Dagens Naringsliv, has written a series of articles, exposing everything from insider trading to buying & selling companies, which I think people deserve to know about – people’s savings are at stake.
    http://www.dagensit.no/finans/article697120.ece

  • Greg

    There really seems to be something up with FAST’s corporate governance. Computer Business Review wrote about it recently as well:
    http://www.cbronline.com/article_news.asp?guid=5F5753C3-73FA-43DB-A227-BA2D87060BCB.
    But I think they’re missing the bigger story, which continues to unwind in the Norwegian press. According to Espin Linderud’s latest report, two FAST directors (including the chairman – Thomas Fussell) secured control in a loss making company and then sold it to FAST – their own company – a few weeks later at a profit of over 2000%. Fussel denies the charges, but isn’t this something that should be further investigated – by shareholders, if not by the authorities?

  • Diddy

    John… love the blog keep the good stuff comin! Just one thing you need to be aware of… If you lived here in Norway, the news about FAST is a lot more centre-stage than in the US. It’s front page news on our most respected newspapers almost daily now… here’s just a selection of recent headlines (there is more):
    ‘FAST Announcement’ tax liabilities Oslo Bors – 6/11/5
    ‘FAST’S Accounts Break the Law’ DagensNaeringsliv – 29/12/5
    ‘Keith and Fussell let Opticom pay their legal fees’ DagenslT – 3/1
    ‘Wanted to stop the investigation report’ DagenslT – 6/1
    ‘Fussell’s Concealled FAST Jackpot’ DagenslT – 17/1
    ‘This has to be Illegal’, DagenslT – 18/1
    ‘FAST broke the Law’, DagensNaeringsliv – 19/1
    ‘Could violate security laws’, DagensNaeringsliv – 19/1
    ‘FAST Defends Corporate Governance’ Comp Business Review – 20/1
    ‘Expected Results Blow to FAST’ DagensNaringsliv – 21/1
    (not all of above on line:
    FAST Oslo Stock Exchange announcement dated 16 Dec. 2005 available at http://www.newsweb.no
    http://www.imarkedet.no/php/art.php?id=284939
    http://www.dn.no/forsiden/article684419.ece

    And now their accounts are being re-stated, its estimated that only around 20% of their revenues are real! Hope you don’t mind me showing this, but this is probably Norway’s first Enron and my guess is someone will be going to jail.

  • Chris

    As an investment professional I thought I would chime in with exerpts from a piece of research published last week. This is not a company I would want to associate with.
    > Exerpts below:
    “The Enron of Norway”

    January 25, 2006

    “What if your overseas investment was crashing and nobody told you?  In fact, what if the CEO cranked out positive press releases in English… but at home, his company was looking more and more like Enron?  That’s
    the case of FAST Search and Transfer (Oslo: FAST.OL), one of the top tech firms in Norway.

    Norway’s top newspaper, The Dagens Naeringsliv (or DN for short,) has been beating up the company for a month.  Today’s story was about the CEO booking $200,000 in profits from a related-party transaction NOT
    discussed at a general shareholders meeting.  According to the DN, this violates Norwegian securities law.”

    >
    “More damning is the chairman’s purchase of a money-losing British bookie, then his selling it to FAST for a 4,000% gain in three weeks! If you convert the currencies, that’s a $500,000 buy – and a $20 million
    sell.  Norway’s top accountant says that’s criminal.  And if that’s not enough, the company is also on the hook for the chairman and the CEO’s legal fees, plus another 300 million Norwegian Krones (about $55
    million) worth of taxes they evaded!….

    “This reminds me of the State of Florida’s pension plan buying Enron near its all-time highs.  Enron at its peak was 100 times bigger than FAST.
    But hey, we’re talking Norway, where a $1.2 billion company is a pretty big deal.”

    >

    “Back in Norway, the “Okokrim” – the
    economic criminal police – are reviewing FAST now.”

    If people find this intersting I can post more research from other parties. This is being published about daily,
    Chris

  • http://fastsearch.com Julie Ginches, Senior Director — Fast Search & Transfer

    FAST: WE CHOOSE THE HIGH ROAD

    George Stalk in his latest book (“Hardball: Are you playing to play, or playing to win?”) sums up the quality of these recent posts perfectly. He talks about how the winners (“hardball companies”) play tough to win by focusing on beating competition through better products and better strategies, while the losers (“softball companies”) tend to “…make half-hearted copies of their competitors products. They will seed negative stories about their competitors in the press or harass them with groundless complaints in the court… But these tactics (they’re not strategies) rarely change the game or bring competitive advantage to the companies that employ them. As they posture and pout, the softball players let billions of dollars of shareholder value drip, drip, drip into oblivion.”

    However, because John’s readers are among the most important in the search industry, here are some facts to set the record straight:

    There is obviously a coordinated effort underway to spread rumors and false information about FAST. This type of slander attack is very similar to what other very successful companies like Microsoft, Cisco and Oracle had to endure during their formative years; and FAST plans to respond as they did – by focusing on our business and not focusing on, or responding to, mud-slinging and tabloid tactics.

    The fact is that FAST is one of the most successful small-cap software companies in the world. We have continuously increased revenue, market share, technology innovation, and today we are a proven and recognized leader in the search industry – much, it seems, to the dismay of competitors.

    Inflammatory Statement: “The Norwegian Daily Dagens Naeringsliv (DN) ran a story on Jan 25 about the CEO booking $200,000 in profits from a related-party transaction that was not discussed at a general shareholders meeting, which according to DN, violates Norwegian securities law.”
    FACT: This statement is blatantly wrong. The Kopek acquisition is not yet completed, and has been recommended by the FAST Board of Directors. The acquisition proposal is on the agenda of FAST’s upcoming shareholder general meeting (most likely the EGM in late February).

    Inflammatory Statement: “The chairman purchased a money-losing British firm, then sold it to FAST for a 4,000% gain in three weeks.”
    FACT: Again, this statement is false and misleading. in 1998 – more than 7 years ago – before FAST was a public company or had any customers or revenues, FAST acquired Fast Web Media (TSO). Furthermore, the FAST Chairman had been a shareholder for more than 2 years prior.

    Inflammatory Statement: “FAST is “on the hook” for the chairman’s and the CEO’s legal fees, plus another 300 million Norwegian Krones (about $55 million) worth of taxes they evaded.”

    FACT: Once again, this is full of twisted information, and is wrong! First, the matter being referred to is not a FAST issue. Second, it is a personal tax matter involving two of our board members and is being worked out between the UK and Norwegian tax authorities. This was an instance of double taxation, as the two board members involved had already paid taxes to UK tax authorities, and were asked to pay taxes again in Norway. And third, FAST’s CEO is not involved.

    Inflammatory Article and follow-on Blog postings slandering FAST by invoking the name of Enron, one of the world’s most dishonest companies.

    FACT: This article is pure fiction, as is the disingenuous, systematic and tightly coordinated re-citing of it in blogs. The author of the blog entry is referring to a ‘report’ written by a self-proclaimed enthusiast of one of our competitors, who also specializes in uncovering little-known investment opportunities and touting them as “incredible,” “single-best,” “best,” and even “the big one” and then coordinating mass email campaigns around them to encourage interested parties to purchase a $5,000 subscription to his ‘research firm’ so he can unveil the name of the potential investment.

    On Wednesday, February 1st we will be stating our Q4 and Year-End 2005 Earnings. I encourage you read this information.

  • http://seoptimization.blog.com/ Search Engines Web

    I’ve spent a bit of time in the past few weeks getting to know FAST Search and Transfer, the company that, prior to my recent conversations, I best knew as “that Norwegian company that sold alltheweb.com to Overture.”

    ===========================

    Observation for: Julie Ginches, Senior Director — Fast Search & Transfer.

    Why was AllTheWeb not developed further and Sold?

    During the years 2000-2001, after the atrophy of AltaVista in 2000 – All the Web was the choice among Geeks and Academicians, … because of having the largest database of Websites and the relatively best relevant SERPs (for that time)…

    It was widely agreed by professional searchers – during 2001 – that using Google and AllTheWeb - BOTH - were essential for getting virtually ANYTHING one could want on the Web…and both were adding many new search feature-tools.

    Around the latter part of 2001 – Google started pulling ahead – and began to be THE Search Engine of choice among serious searchers….

    Why did AllTheWeb stagnate, it appeared not to keep up with Google in relevancy?

    Was the Web Search NOT a priority, was there lack of interest in the Aggressive Marketing, Brin and Page began doing in 2001 – that helped bring Google into many lives.

    Was the USA market less open to Fast?
    Was the Media non responsive?

    Yahoo seems to NOT have any interest in developing AllTheWeb – it is just an appendage.

    AllTheWeb could have been on the level of Google today – had there been increased SERPs developments.

    It is a mystery and trajedy !!!!!!