Posted tagged ‘search’

Parlor Game: Web Search & the Election

3, July, 2008

One of the fun parlor games of Election ’08 is to look at Internet data and figure out what they mean.

The answer may be “nothing,” of course.

But let’s play along and look at the latest Hitwise data on popular search terms.

HitWise, a company that tracks Internet traffic, tabulated the search words that sent people to John McCain or Barack Obama’s websites. [Here’s a press release about the findings on the candidates’ top Internet search terms. For more detail, visit the Hitwise blog.]

Let’s look at the arguably vital issue of healthcare.

“Health care” didn’t make Obama’s top 5 search terms in the first quarter of 2008. In the second quarter, health care took the number 4 slot. Q1’s top term was “gay marriage,” Q2’s “abortion.

Meantime, “health care” took the tops spots for John McCain in both Q1 and Q2.

So: Does this mean people already think they know Obama’s healthcare plan and don’t need to search about it on the Internet? Or don’t they have much interest in the issue?

As for McCain, do the searches mean his plan is little-known and people want information on it? Or do those interested in McCain care more about healthcare than Obama’s voters?

You never know.

Q2 Obama top 5 terms, in order: Abortion, Education, Environment/Global Warming, Health Care, Immigration.

Q2 McCain top 5 search terms: Health Care, Environment/Global Warming, Oil Prices, Immigration, Education

Make of this what you will. But it’s worth noting that the economy does not make the top five for either candidate.

One final observation. The search term “Rumors” accounted for 5 percent of searches in Q1. In Q2, that number doubled. “Religion” dropped from 12 percent to 7 percent between Q1 and Q2.

Retreat to the parlor and discuss, please.

Viewzi’s Visual Search: I’ll Know It When I See It

22, June, 2008

Let me be unambiguous: It’s Google’s world, we just live in it. There is no “search war,” no “game-changers” in the world of search. When the End of Days finally arrives, some bony finger will type “eschatology” in the search box, hit “I’m Feeling Lucky,” and the world will end. Google’s victory will be complete.

Happily, none of this is preventing people from doing some wily, aspirational things with search. The most compelling (if maddeningly flawed) example I’ve seen is called Viewzi, which has just opened itself to the public after a buzzy closed beta.

Short version: It’s a visual search tool that offers 15 [!] different ways to view search results. It’s a dazzler, a hum-dinger, a Halloween bagful of eye candy. If you’re a flash developer, a dataviz geek or a distractable noodler, you’ll find it irresistible. Viewzi makes Google’s results look like Braille.

Put a query in the search box, and a ribbon of blurry choices spreads across the screen: Basic Photo View, VideoX3 View, 4 Sources View, and more. [Note: Since this is an application built in flash, I can’t provide specific URLs to any of these features. If you click on the images below they’ll take you to a new search box. You’ll need to conduct a search yourself to see the features I’m discussing.]

Viewzi Mix

Below is the 4 Sources view, which presents screen shots of results harvested from Google, Yahoo, Live and Ask. I can’t understate the goofy pleasure I get rearranging and digging among these results. Bonus: You can see immediately which results the engines share, value differently, bury, etc. SEOers will dig it.

Viewzi 4 Sources View

But the most powerful–and potentially disruptive–feature is something called 3-D Photo Cloud view. It has a creepy, responsive intelligence that I find affecting in ways I can’t explain. It somehow creates the unsettling impression of knowledge accumulating in real time, of neural pathways proliferating as you watch, of an infobeing gathering power as it grows. [I have not been drinking anything stronger than coffee while writing this, I swear. This thing is freaky.]

Yakov Sverdlov, Viewzi 3-D


The Viewzi project has the feel of an open-source playground, a platform where search geeks and datavizualists can create new ways of organizing information visually. This may turn out to be the real value of Viewzi–a kind of Challenge X for visual search that inspires some serious bug-eyed innovation. [Or not: There’s already evidence of creativity being stretched thin over commercial ambitions: There are Celebrity Photo, Weather, Recipe, Shopping and TechCrunch (?) views. Can a FaceBookNewsFeedView (sm) be far away?]

Meantime, I tried Viewzi for some “real” searches I’d recently done on health, a recent political poll, an old friend from college, some tax stuff, a vintage car. Here’s what I realized: Most searchers are harshly pragmatic, unforgiving of excessive keystrokes and distractions. Google is perfect for the drive-by infosnag.

Viewzi offers some simple search views for mundane topics, the most servicable of which is the Web Screenshot View, which allows you to scroll through images of results pages. It’s slower and more annoying than Google, but it allows you to preview a source before you click into it.

So That\'s a Matador?

Google rules the everyday search. But if you have the need or leisure to dig into a topic and explore it from a bunch of different sides, Viewzi has plenty to offer. Block out two hours on Outlook and close your door. You’ll be awhile.

But if anything funny crawls out of that 3-D  Photo Cloud and attaches itself to your forehead like a tick, don’t blame me. I warned you.

iMedix: Social Search that Creeps Me Out

12, May, 2008

Oh, geez. Deb21 wants to chat again.

Here I am, trying to look up some information about tinnitus–a k a ringing in the ears, a condition which has recently afflicted a member of my family–and Deb21 [I’ve changed her handle to protect the innocent ] wants to chat. A little photo box pops up on my screen, with the icky solicitation “I’m online! Chat with me now!” There’s even an audible little ping whenever she implores me to spend some time with her.

iMedix social search

Welcome to iMedix, a “social search” site in the personal health space.

In concept, social search is powerful: Combine the algorithmically valid but brain-dead health search results of a typical search engine with the “wisdom of the crowds”–the aggregated opinions of real humans who can validate the information they found worthwhile when dealing with the same issue. Add to that the ability to connect with those people, and (goes the theory) you’ve got something good.

Like any 2.0 community, iMedix faces the challenge of creating critical mass: A community with nobody home is in a death spiral from Day One. But building critical mass from scratch is no small task in mid-2008: Early adopters are oversubscribed to social networks and the mainstream hasn’t figured out what all the fuss is about. Every business based on network power needs people. A lot of them. Fast.

Which brings us back to Deb21. iMedix seems to be trying a bit too hard to get people to join the party, dispatching its youthful crowd to flag folks into the front door.

First it was Ann, a comely 29-year-old community manager interested in fitness and lifestyle. I acquiesced to her friend request but haven’t heard from her since.

I accepted friendship with a fellow calling himself neurosurgeon_55, figuring it’s never a bad idea to know a brain surgeon. But then I discovered he’s a 17-year-old guy in India, whose personal statement reads, in part:

Then we will ve a lots of chat (humourous)but valuable beniffitng both of us in the long run so what r u thinking of? Hmmmmmmmm..lets go ahead and chat.Yo man!!

An unsettling number of people who have set up profiles in iMedix are attractive and young and look, at least to these middle-aged eyes, like the happy-go-lucky group with cool haircuts and great teeth you see in ads for premium liquors.

Here is the problem: People with health problems have, well. . .health problems. They want to see that people like them, people who have something valuable to share, are in a community.

You will certainly find these people at iMedix: There’s a 53-year-old woman whose college age daughter has bipolar and is an abusive relationship. Good lord, the woman needs help. Call me too fast to judgment, but I don’t think neurosurgeon_55 is the guy to offer her support and guidance.

To be fair: iMedix is in beta. It appears they’ve seeded the site with the folks they have around–their young staff and (it appears) their social network contacts.

Building a 2.0 health community is hard. Not many people have gotten it right, and the very concept is fraught with danger. But social networks are based on the company they keep. And no matter who that company is, in the health space I’m not sure they should jump onto your screen saying “I’m online! Chat with me now!”

As for the search part of the social search: The information on tinnitus was really pretty good, better than what Brother Google served up on page one. Link number one was a direct hit.

Along the way I found the profile of someone named Niroo. She is 24 and says she has hearing loss and is interested in tinnitus. She lives in Iran. I sent her an e-mail. Haven’t heard from her yet. [#]

Punchline, added 5/19/2008

Seven days after writing the entry above, I received the following message in my iMedix mailbox.

Dearest One,
My name is Miss Ashandy,i am a single girl never marrie i saw your profile today at (www.imedix.com)Ashandy100@yahoo.com) and became intrested in you,i will also like to know you the more,and i want you to send an email to my email address so i can give you my picture
for (i believe we can move from here.
I am waiting for your mail to my email address above.Miss Ashandy (Remeber the distance or colour does not matter but love matters alot in life
Yours Lover
Miss Ashandy Rolland

Which Way to Voxford?

21, April, 2008

My good friend John Kelly, a tenured lumberjack journalist [my new term for those who chop down trees to publish words], has a hilarious piece in The Guardian. It’s about how people find his blog.

Kelly, a former colleague of mine at The Washington Post, has been whiling away the months as a visiting scholar at Oxford, studying citizen journalism or some such rot. His blog, Voxford, is full of sharp observations from the psychic border shared by the US and the UK. To read it during lunch is to risk spattering your screen with bits of tuna fish from laughing out loud.

Anyhow, his Guardian story is about the strange search queries that bring people to his blog. Since he’s so close to Fleet Street, his blog is full of references to the sort of goofy smut you find in the British tabs. Some of the searches that have brought people to Oxford include:

Penis grab off

How to grab a woman’s breast without getting caught

Why does my groin, face, beard and head itch?

Picture of tourist diarrheaing

I’m afraid my own U.S. based blog can’t compete with that. I do well with “scariest video on the web” and “hillary widget,” but that’s the best I have.

Of course, now that I’ve used the same words in my blog–I refer to penis, breast, groin, and diarrheaing, among others–I may get some of that traffic too.

Which I think answers the question raised by the only other marginally exotic search that led people to my blog: “web blogging is it really as good as eve…”?


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