Archive for the ‘information architecture’ category

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.


Crowdsourcing African American History

28, September, 2007

The National Museum of African American History and Culture has launched a Web presence years before the museum itself will open its doors in Washington. The idea is, partly, to crowdsource black history.

Soliciting historical material from visitors to virtual museums is not new, but the content already, less than a week into the adventure, is quite powerful. Twenty-two items were posted as of this writing, some including wonderful family photos. Read I Thought They Were Going to Kill Us All,  a first-person report by Joey Robinson reflecting on a singular, tragic experience in Newark in 1967. This stuff passes the user-generated-content quality bar easily.

IBM donated the technology, and having a (relatively) strong tech partner has already paid off.

The main pages feature threadmaps that illustrate links between content contributions. The display on the home page isn’t very well-settled, but click to open up the map on an inside page for a fascinating way to engage with the stuff.

Threadmaps are familiar to information architecture geeks and 2.0 communitarians. But this is the most mainstream use of this technology I’ve seen. With few entries so far the map navigates well. We’ll see what happens when the social network builds and hundreds and thousands of content items pile up.

The public contribution effort, called Memory Book, asks people to geotag and date submissions for eventual display via maps and timelines.

One timeline is already in progress. I have no idea what you call the navigation scheme is uses. It combines a slider with two timelines, one static, full-span timeline from the 1600s to today and another detail-view timeline below. Both lines use transparent graphics to indicate volume of material available at each period. Once you click on a year or period, a text box below spools out details about each event. That’s a lousy description, so check it out yourself. Frankly the usability is not very good.

Saddest detail: All public contributions be vetted for, among other things,  content that incites racial or ethnic hatred.