This blog is dedicated to the in-depth review, analysis and discussion of technologies related to the search and discovery of information. This blog represents my views only and does not reflect those of my employer, IBM.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Flashy (sexier) Search

There are those who applaud Google’s spartan look and feel to presenting search saying that it’s clean, uncluttered, and easy to use. The Google home page with its single search box placed in the middle purposely leaves 90% of the screen blank white. The Google search results have all the excitement of a bibliography found at the back of a text book. However there is something to be said for its simplicity. Even my mother (sorry mom) can easily search the web. Users are not distracted with flashy advertisements demanding our attention or cutesy icons that leave us wondering what they do. But in this MTV age of video imagery and computer graphics are there ways to make search sexier without loosing its usability?

There are two search engines that caught my attention not only for the technology that they employ but their choice to use Flash to enhance the end user search experience. Flash (produced by Adobe) enables webmasters to create highly interactive web pages rich with video, graphics, and animation for their websites.

KartOO is one such search engine the uses Flash to present search results in an entirely graphical way rather than a flat list of text. The results are presented in the form of an interactive map, exactly like a roadmap on which the cities are replaced by Websites and the roads by thematics. Is the interface useable? It may be if you are trying to search extremely large quantities of documents and would like to see how they are interconnected. I had fun experimenting with this one and even like the animated genie when waiting for the search engine to complete its search.

The second Flash enabled search engine (and I’m sure there are others) is UJIKO. Here UJIKO presents the search interface much like a video game controller. The search results are arranged around a circle that contains a thumbnail of the result page as you hover over each result. The circle is ringed with color bars indicating results that are similar based on a generated keyword vocabulary. The interactive nature of the controller is intriguing as you hover over and click on its various parts.

Is UJIKO (and KartOO for that matter) useable? I guess it depends on what your use to. For those of us that have been weaned on Google’s interface these “flashy” search engines are a bit unsettling. But I can’t help but wonder if the next generation of users who grew up on video games will embrace these highly interactive search engines. Only time will tell.

Note: I purposely focused on just the presentation aspects of these search engines and their use of Flash. There are other search technologies and concepts that they use that I’ll comment on in other postings.


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