Make Mine Interactive

I replace my car every 20 years, whether I need to or not. Needless to say, I am on the lagging edge when it comes to new automotive technology. When I first encountered a GPS system in a rental car, I felt like I had landed in an alternate universe … one in which I would not be getting lost on a distressingly regular basis. Then we added a Prius to our household and now I’m irritated when I walk up to my old Subaru and it doesn’t detect that I’m nearby and obligingly unlock itself like the Prius does. I can’t believe that my Sube doesn’t have a real-time display of my gas mileage, or a camera mounted on the rear bumper for backing up safely. Suddenly my now 7-year-old car seems so last century. It’s amazing how quickly we get accustomed to new convenience standards.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful to our long-time econtent providers; I cannot imagine running my business without the value-added information I can find through them. However, I have taken a few new search interfaces out for a spin, and that familiar old search screen from my tried and true online service is starting to look a bit, well, dated. In my web wanderings, I have come across three finding tools that all offer some really interesting options in terms of planning and executing a search and in reviewing the results. Collectively, they offer some tremendous innovations, and, like that keyless ignition in the Prius, I am starting to wonder when I will see these features in my online standards. (That includes Google as well as the subscription-based resources.)

First is SortFix, primarily a search interface for Google. What is extraordinary about SortFix is the ability to drag and drop search terms in between several "buckets." Type in a search, and you’ll see a bucket of suggested alternative terms, which you can drag into the Add to Search bucket, the Remove bucket (this is a Boolean NOT), or the Standby bucket. That last bucket rocks my world: Imagine being able to keep track of all your inspirations and alternative search words off to the side, ready to be dragged and dropped into your search box if needed.

My next discovery was, a search engine with a twist. For starters, you can indicate the relative importance of your search terms by typing the words in a larger or smaller font. So instead of searching "electoral college" obama mccain as three equally significant terms, I could specify that the phrase "electoral college" is the key concept by selecting a larger font on SearchCloud. This means that I am able to affect the relevance ranking of the search results far more directly than I could by simply putting the most significant word first in my search query. And SearchCloud’s search results have an interesting twist as well. In addition to the "traditional" search result display we’re accustomed to, there is a tabular display that shows the first 200 or so search results and the calculated relevance score for each one. Looking at the results of my search, I can see that after about the first 20 sites the relevance drops off. What a useful piece of information; this can help me decide whether to expand the search to other words or to drill down further into the search results I already have.

Finally, I have been playing around with Searchme. It has all kinds of interesting features; what I found most striking were two tools that I would love to see offered in the traditional online services. First, Searchme offers alternative meanings—on-the-fly—for each word you type in the search box. Imagine building this into content with a taxonomy. As you type each term, you can dynamically drill down into related meanings of the word, constructing a richer and more thorough query. And Searchme has a delightful design for reviewing search results: Instead of a static textual list, you visually page through the retrieved webpages, just as you would thumb through a magazine. What a great way to skim through results from a fee-based service, to boot.

As the Millennial Generation, having teethed on joysticks, enters the workplace, offering econtent with a nondynamic interface is going to be a tough sell. When will we see truly dynamic interfaces for high-value econtent?