Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Visual Searches for Web Pages

Last month, Searchme.com launched a private beta of their search engine which uses visual representation in order for the user to find what they are looking for.

After using it for a few weeks, I can say that I find it a valuable addition to the methods we use to locate data, people and information from the web.

It almost feels like a luxury version of search. Rather than being given a text based list of results with accompanying pictures associated with the pages, it gives you a look at the pages themselves and the web sites they are from.

Think about the cues that you draw from a web page. Your experience includes the style and layout of how the information is delivered as well as the raw information that is contained within the post. Even Google, with it's sparse home page for keyword input, changes its logo graphic to communicate visually. (Today's Earth Day Google is a good example.)

The suggested search results on Search Me are presented like the CD or album covers that you would flip through on an old jukebox. The slider allows you to move quickly along the row of selections and a right click opens them up in a new window.

Other search engines have algorithms that attempt to present the most valuable search results first. Google has won the search market through its highly protected search algorithms and Yahoo recently fought back with "Search Assist".

Because of its approach, Searchme cannot fill the initial screen with as many results as a text based results page might, but they allow for a refinement of the category of search right from the initial request. And it does so intelligently.

When I search for "Andrew Fry" alone, one of the suggested categories is "genealogy" and another is "blogs". When I add the keyword "Tacoma" following it, the first category suggested is "colleges and universities". Obviously the engine is referencing the results prior to presentation in order to suggest the most fitting subcategory for the search results.

The approach is taking advantage of the size and bandwidth of today's internet.

Searchme has been around a while. There first round of funding came three years ago in January of 2005. The have significant backing from Sequoia Capital among others with around 31 million in funding.

Though they have a long way to go, they have indexed over a billion pages, and as the site gets more use, the results will become more valuable. Because they are not built off of the Google or Yahoo! search engines, they have freedom to optimize their own categorical results, but it also means they have some catching up to do.

Overall, an excellent addition to the world of search.

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