SearchMe: A Visual Search Engine
We have come to rely on the major search engines for our information, but as you have no doubt noticed, search results are ordered by the engines themselves, and no matter what the algorithm, the search results are always text, single lines of description supplied by the website themselves. Rely as we do upon the wisdom of the search engine to put the best on the front page, finding the right page among these one-liners can be difficult. SearchMe has developed another way to handle that information – visually.
At first, SearchMe appears to be any other search engine, a solitary search field on a nearly empty page, but your first search quickly shows you how different the engine is. Immediately after initiating the search the search results are presented to us visually – screenshots that are stacked for easy viewing and navigable by a slider bar at the bottom. As we move the slider across, the results of our search are moved to center screen, allowing us to see which website we would like. Should you want to see the description of the pages, an arrow button on the bottom brings up the traditional web result. When we are ready to investigate further, we click, and a separate page is opened with that site, preserving our search on the original SearchMe page.
Perhaps understanding that visual information is not enough for the user, SearchMe has integrated some features into the search page that allow for customization and most importantly, parsing the information. As we look to the top left corner we see the beginning of the categorization that improves the SearchMe search. At once you have the option to isolate your search by web, video, and music, yet this is merely the beginning of categorization.
To illustrate the possibilities, let us say that we enter a search for “apple.” What appears immediately after we have initiated the search, in the middle of the page near the top, are a number of categories which act as filters to help narrow our search. Our search for “apple” has brought back everything from “software” to “plants,” allowing us to further isolate our desired result. If we were to click on “plant,” we would be closer to information about the fruit, if were to click on “computer hardware” we would be closer to Apple’s iPhone. These categories change with the search, which is part of SearchMe’s innovation; taking an inquiry and adapting a semantic classification on it gives us not only a better search, but as semantic engines mature, greater accuracy. A search in one of the major search engines for “iphone” may not necessarily bring a result to 3g, but since semantic searches bundle keywords with strong relationships, a semantic search is far more likely to. It is the mark of what we expect from the next generation of web applications, what people are calling web 3.0, a more intelligent and refined web.
This alone is useful, but it is the idea of preservation that makes SearchMe truly engaging. To date saving searches has been difficult, and if we have made the error of closing the browser, we are forced to try to resurrect our findings from our browser’s history. SearchMe has a clever approach to this, offering to keep bookmarks on the site, in their visual form, in what they call “stacks.” The “stacks” are shortcuts created by dragging and dropping your preferred pages into the corner, and can be created for as many bundles as you like, each with your label. When you want to bring them onto the screen, merely click and the bundle takes center screen.
At this point you may be asking “why would I want to save a search?” but imagine this scenario: you want to find places to visit in Italy and then send the information along to your significant other. In this case, you don’t just want to send along some links, you want to impart what you saw on your search, so you use the “share” feature in the “stacks” box and send them the special url inside SearchMe for instant viewing. This feature is particularly entertaining when the stack is video, because videos in a stack (or a search) are not static images, they are active windows with local control. What’s that mean? Let’s take a closer look with our ”apple” search.
On the top left button strip, we switch our search from “web” to “video.” The first thing that comes up is a video about Apple computers, which begins to play. If we weren’t fans of Apple, we might want to stop the video there, or if we had missed something, rewind it. Because the window is an active page, we have that control on the same screen, and do not have to open another page to adjust volume, stop, or replay. You will even see information about the video when you roll the mouse over it. When the search is narrowed to music, the search becomes an impromptu playlist, as SearchMe plays the videos in order. The same applies to the “stacks” so it is a simple matter to create playlists of music videos to share them on SearchMe.
At this point it should be mentioned that SearchMe is in beta, and while very functional, there are some features that are still under construction. The most notable one is the breadth of the search itself – on three sample searches (a band from Toronto, a rare fruit, and our favorite web 2.0 directory, Listio) the results were only as we expected for Listio, but there is hope that as the engine matures and is tweaked, a greater sophistication of search will be possible. Also, there is a disclaimer on the privacy of the “stacks,” which will not trouble most users.
Overall, SearchMe is attentive to what people are looking for in the next generation of search engines, supplying more search tools, greater customization, and the ability to interact with the information in a single interface. What it lacks, temporarily we hope, in depth, is compensated by the mix of new capabilities that it offers. You can find SearchMe in Listio under the tags visual+search-engine.
Next in this series: oSkope: Six Service Visual Search
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/Searchme/
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