Written by Guest Writer Steve Spalding
Mahalo, algorithmically powered like Google or driven by something as close to home as natural language, like Powerset. Where there is information, there is a need to be able to easily sift through it. So far, we have focused our attention on brute force solutions to the problem of search. If an engine produces bad results, well then develop a better engine. However another path that might provide a solution to this problem is a search engine that can do our work for us - a search agent. Web services that can learn from our choices, to make future searches more accurate.The idea of "Search" is a powerful concept. Whether it's guide based like
Let’s take a closer look at a few search agents that are tackling search from the perspective of the searcher, using our choices to improve their results and driving the idea of search in compelling new directions.
Swamii is a topic based search agent. You begin your journey with Swamii by entering a topic. This could be anything from "swim suits" to "Steven Spielberg". After you enter this hook, Swamii conducts a search as usual. The interesting bit is that the next time you return to Swamii, it will present you with everything new it has found about your subject of interest, without forcing you to re-enter these terms. Your results are broken down into broad categories (News, Blogs, Shopping) and some more interesting ones like Peer to Peer and Television.
Unfortunately, as you add to your list of interests the results can become unwieldy - which makes it falter a bit as a general purpose search engine. All in all, this is a great tool for tracking ideas as they progress through time. As a search agent it shines, reducing the effort it would normally take to research similar ideas manually and sift through results that you have already seen.
Rollyo is another beta product that tackles the task of moving from search engine to search agent. This product is more of a meta-search engine than Swamii. You customize your search based on the sources you wish to search within. For example, if you only want results from the Washington Post and Read/WriteWeb, you add those sources to your SearchRoll. All future searches are conducted by searching within these sources. SearchRolls can be customized, and there are a number of them that come pre-made for you. These custom search engines can also be saved for future use.
What Rollyo lacks that separates it from a true search agent is autonomy. While the engine "learns" from your behavior, it forces you to bookmark sites that you are interested in before they can be used in your SearchRoll. This site is great if you have a very specific set of sites that you know will contain the information that you are looking for; and you want to filter out the rest. It's not so great if your main interest is to have a repetitive search conducted for you over time.
Swicki competes admirably as a search agent. Once again, you start off by creating your own search engine. You select the topics, you choose the sites you wish to include and you pick among common search terms that you believe would be of interest to your users. After that, your new Swicki takes on a life of its own. Your users can vote results up and down, and you have the ability to completely delete entries from the result page. Ideally, in a short amount of time this will create a "perfect" results page, geared towards your users.Eurekster's
The major flaw with Swicki is that it suffers from the problem that all community based web services do: it only works optimally if you have enough users. Otherwise, it more closely resembles a "guide-based" search engine than an intelligent search agent. A Swicki without community is just a slick personalized search page. However for the most part it works perfectly, you can write your own search results and subscribe to an RSS feed which will deliver pertinent results to you.
[Ed: disclosure that Eurekster is a R/WW sponsor - there is a swicki in our sidebar]
A Glimpse Into The Future
MIT's Media Lab is spearheading a series of projects that may take search into a realm that the current offerings only touch upon. Three projects of particular interest are Creo, Miro and Adeo. Together, they form a matched set in semantic search.To complete this review of software agents, a look into the future seems appropriate.
Creo is a programming tool that enables you to teach your computer how to autonomously interact with Web sites based on a demonstration. Miro, the search module, will allow you to make goal-based, semantic searches. For example if you want to find a cure for the common cold, it will assist you in making searches that would most likely lead you towards a decent cough suppressant. Adeo helps to streamline web interactions, minimizing the inputs and outputs to only the most pertinent details.
Miro in action
Used together these MIT tools could allow you to automatically do goal-based searches with a minimum amount of steps. You can see these tools in action here.
Whether guided search, semantic search or algorithmic search wins the day is a question for history, but in the meantime it will be the simplest solution that will draw the most users. If any engine is to get a foothold into the hotly contested search industry, it will have to combine accuracy and relevance with ease of use. Autonomous search through agents may be one key to that puzzle.
Agents pic: MrEddy