Sunbeam Is Your Search Engine

Sunbeam The First User Search EngineIn previous versions (for those of you lucky enough to see the Alpha of the world’s first search engine to run directly from the user’s own desktop) Sunbeam would ask you to input your favorite websites as a starting point for its indexing routines. This was a problem for two reasons:

  1. Nobody ever wants to enter anything they don’t have to, especially when that information exists somewhere on their machine.
  2. It limited the ‘profile’ of the user initially available to Sunbeam and how quickly they’d be able to retrieve information actually relevant to them.

It also meant that the semantic engine that appeared in the earliest release was not capable of returning accurate matches for a period whilst the engine cranked up and had indexed at least a few hundred pages.

I’d been musing over these problems for a while, I wanted an experience where the user would be able to just install the program, let it do its work without going through any configuration screens, which they may not understand or that might put them off the install completely.

The solution as it turned out, was fairly simple. Using the browsing history of the user we can track down the urls that are visited most frequently and most recently without damaging privacy. After all these are just starting points to build a profile of interests. Data like this is a goldmine for Sunbeams advanced statistical algorithms and will enable it to deliver the results that mimic the language used in the websites in your browsing history.

It doesn’t stop there though, also added are routines that scan your outlook sent messages, tracking the semantics of your own typed words. These again, are not stored as complete messages anywhere in the system, are not tied to email addresses or even subject lines and privacy here is key. What is most important here is that you as a user will never have to go through a slew of irritating questions when you install Sunbeam, that inadequately attempt to locate and disect your interests.

Seeing as I expect privacy to be such an issue here, let’s turn to another reason to use Sunbeam over Google or Yahoo:

  • Your searches are your own.
  • Your data will never be sent anywhere else (there isn’t the server space for it!).
  • If you choose to share your search database with anyone else (as easy as emailing the one file), then that’s completely up to you and not something you have to ‘opt-in’ to.

This software is entirely your own to play with, these are the things I’m really loving about it:

  • You can play with the open source search algorithm.
  • You can swap, share and amalgamate databases with friends or download one from the web.
  • There are no adverts, no pop ups and no interruptions.
  • If you don’t remember the exact word you’re looking for, just put in a similar one, or a descriptive phrase.
  • If you want to use the same database when you get home, just mail it to yourself.
  • If you don’t like the results you’re getting, run a seperate database for work and for home to match your corporate and downtime moods.
  • If you have to do market research on teenagers, just use the database your nephew compiled.


Microsoft Are Back On Top With Surface

I have just watched a video of the most exciting user interface ever seen. It’s not of the forthcoming iPhone nor is it any kind of Apple product. This is Microsoft Surface and it promises a revolution in how we interact with our computers and mobile devices, I’m completely blown away by not the technology behind the system, but how well it’s used to produce a product that will potentially devestate Apple’s market share.

Microsoft Surface Puts The Company Firmly Back On Top Of Apple

If you wondered why Bill Gates was suddenly agreeing to do an interview with Steve Jobs, then I’m pretty sure this is the reason. It doesn’t matter if he does badly in that discussion because as soon as Surface was on show then Steve Jobs had lost out anyway. Will Jobs have a rebuttal product that we haven’t heard about? I doubt it.

Pricing And Availability

You’ll be able to get Surface from winter 2007 for between $5000 and $10000. I know that’s a lot of money right now but they aim to bring the price down to a consumer level quickly and this is the first device I’ve seen that really will fit right in your living room, instead of just attempting to hide in a corner. Designer coffee tables go for far more and I know which I’d rather have.

The New Standard In Interaction

For me, as a search and user interface developer, this fits in extremely nicely with my view of tiling search results as images. An application using Windows Live Search in this way for not just searching but RSS feeds and bookmarks would be highly intuitive and allow the user to see what they want straight off the mark.

Surface Revolutionises Connections To Mobile Devices

One of the most ingenious features they’ve integrated right off the mark is the ability to interact with your mobile devices. We all have phones now; they started with IR then Bluetooth, now some feature WiFi. How many of you actually use these connection abilities reguarly though? I’d guess it’s a low percentage because the hardware and software we have to connect with doesn’t make it simple and easy enough to use frequently in most cases.

What Surface lets you do is put your mobile phone, PDA or digital camera directly on the table top and a ring will appear around it to signify the connection. You can then drag media to and from the device with your finger and a bit of wrist movement, it’s so simple it makes me want to cry. I spend a lot of time shouting about the need for simple and intuitive user interfaces and this is the model we should all start building from.

This is the new standard in user interfaces, keep up.


I Can Has Likkle Written Contentz?

Hi Readers!

The internet is an odd place, as I look at wordpress.com right now I see the top few blogs are I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?, passive-aggressive notes from roommates, neighbors, coworkers and strangers and of course Scobleizer.

F or those of you yet to witness the phenomenen of icanhascheezburger then let me summarise for you by saying it’s a blog filled with cute/demonic pictures of animals, mostly feline in nature with captions underneath. The passive-aggressive notes blog is exactly as it says in the title; pictures of amusing passive-aggressive notes.

As a further exercise in demonstrating to you the power of this medium let me give you an example of an icanhascheezburger image (taken of my girlfriend’s cat, yesterday):

f**k bucket, has pub

If you haven’t been to the site, you won’t understand most likely. The ‘bucket’ is an in joke as these websites often produce. Why exactly though is it so popular over the thousands of blogs that produce well written, quality content?

It’s fast

There are many facets to the speed here, firstly it’s very quick for the authors to add a new post. All they need to do is get an image, put it in the wordpress editor, add a couple of lines about the submitter and possibly the humourous content if they can be bothered and they’re done. This means they can generate hundreds of posts in the time it takes the rest of us to put out one or two (sorry wasn’t talking about you Scoble, or you Winer). The other quick thing they can do when they add a wordpress post is to select categories, this is a very fast way of tagging essentially and means as well as quickly refreshed content they also have targeted keywords. Hello good SEO.

It’s also fast for users; if you don’t get the joke in the first pic you see, it’s a 1 click scroll to the next one. You laugh, it’s funny, you whack the link on an email and send it round the office. They even have a lolcats generator that lets you put a caption on your picture of a cat in about 20 seconds AND automatically submit it to the site. Auto generated content essentially, which is just gold.

If the site updates less often the search engines aren’t the only things that return less frequently. The same applies to all your human users as well. They’re far more likely to refresh if they think the content updates often, and even more if they think their cat might appear on the next post.

What next?

I think very soon, you’ll see an abundance of these kinds of websites arriving if people are smart (often they’re not).

All kinds of non text media will benefit from this treatment and a social voting style system for it will allow a much faster turnaround on content. You’ve seen it with Digg and this is one of the reasons they really should add an images section they’re losing out hugely there.

Other websites have also shown the advantage of fast content generation from any source. Twitter allowing updates by mobile phone for example. I can upload pictures to blogspot from my k800i directly, it’s a shame I don’t like the blogging software.

Urrr.

I completely lost my train of thought I went and read some c# documentation and then all my post ideas ran away. I may finish this later when I regain my mind.


Fear Of Google: As Seen On Google Timeline!

UPDATE:

It would appear Valleywag’s Nick Denton is lacking a sense of irony and unfortunately I seem to have my commenting privileges revoked there now. Shame. He’s thoughtfully left this little nugget seemingly ending the argument with a resounding slap to my pride:

“Hey, Phil, I don’t mind being slagged off. Comes with the job. But you didn’t do it very effectively. One could make the point that mentions of Google itself have become more frequent. But sensationalism? I don’t think you proved your point”

What’s that Nick you can’t hear my answer from all the way over there because you blocked my account? Never mind. Sensationalist articles Nick, seeing as you are unaware, are those that are published without any proof behind them. So I put together my own sensationalist article on your sensationalist article and it appears you lack a sense of humour. Fortunately you’re unable to prove to me you have one because that’d mean you wrote something of substance. Unlike you Nick I won’t delete or remove negative comments even though I rate my blog above a tabloid so feel free to hurl insults from below if you wish.

THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

I saw over on Valleywag they’ve written yet another hack piece on the so-called Fear Of Google with the standard sensationalism and lack of humour. They’ve even drawn a pretty graph they collated data on from the Nexis newspaper database showing their spectacular lack of knowledge on current Google events.

Being a bit of a dry and sarcastic git I present to you Fear Of Google: As Seen On Google Timeline! which is a representation of how Google itself sees the phenomenon.

As Seen On Google Timeline!

Don’t bother reading Valleywag’s article, go and read what Scoble says instead if I was you.

Personally I have no fear of Google (though I am typing this in the stationary cupboard but that’s because of my love of pens) and instead feel an increasing need to criticise them rather than run in fear. Then again, people react in the same way with governments and it’s surprising that a company can approach that level.


I Think I Just Invented The Real Search 2.0

Ignore the numbers in the title for the moment if you will and focus on these keywords: social, networking, search, community.

Web 2.0, by many definitions is all about allowing users to network, interact and the read/write web. Search 2.0 in that context does not yet exist. There are in some instances communities that happen to be built around a search engine such as Yahoo and there are new semantic search engines that let the users tag pages and documents to be found (something I’ve talked about before and pointed out as next to useless). None of these let the users actually interact with which results are returned. There is no networking or interaction that takes place with the search engine itself and this is just plain wrong.

Do you know how many people are on the internet at any one time? I sure as hell don’t but it’s a big number 🙂

Who creates all the content that ends up on the internet anyway? It’s not machines, it’s people, human beings are ultimately responsible for all the content on the internet and that’s never going to change. So why are we asking machines about content created by fellow humans when most of the humans are online anyway and know far more about their subject, and where it’s covered on the internet than any machine is ever likely to?

Enough rhetorical questions, I’m going to tell you what the real Search 2.0 is and you’re going to shout at me and tell me I should have patented and I’m a fool. However, if you don’t hire me to build it for you then you’re a fool because I get these ideas on a daily basis and I will crush you at some point in my life. Just kidding, I’m a fan of open ideas as well as open source especially when they’re for the benefit of us all.

Search 2.0

  • An instant messenger application or website with a live AJAX interface forms the centerpeice of the front end.
  • Users create accounts and select their areas of interest by entering specific key phrases for those topics they feel most knowledgeable about.
  • Users can then also select web pages that match those highly specific key phrases if they choose to.
  • The search box appears as normal, you enter your query and the fun part of search 2.0 begins.
  • Your query is analysed against users on the system, what occurs at this stage is actually a search for users with the best matching key areas against your query.
  • If these users are online they can respond directly to your query, either suggesting a web link or entering a chat with you.
  • If no users are matched online, then the suggested web pages are searched for the best matching content.

That’s the basis of it, but let’s have a look at the immense social power here.

Firstly, you get to rate the responses you receive, meaning that people can gain a reputation score for specific subjects and topics giving them an online credibility for that topic.

Sorry we just had an office fly-hunting session. Don’t ask.

Right, where was I? This system is by its nature, very low spam, it can’t be manipulated to provide results that are less useful because if you try and peddle a corporate product that’s crap, your reputation will drop very quickly and you’ll be banned. If the product is good on the other hand then who’s going to mind being directed to it if it answers their specific need and that’s better advertising than any money’s going to get you.

This concept is all about the users, no massively complicated algorithms need writing here it’s just using the very advanced and articulate knowledge of the very people who create the content you’re looking for, and to get the best answer you’ll ever get from a search engine is it not worth answering a couple of questions every now and again about the subjects you enjoy?

You can also bookmark people just like in any other IM and make friends with people holding the same interests, who you’d never meet on any other social network, and certainly would never think to find from a search engine.


Digg On Your Desktop

I’ve previously posted a video of the new search interface I’ve been experimenting with. In order to get some feedback on how it works I’ve put together a small application that uses the Digg API to display the popular news stories on your desktop background.

The application will update for the latest stories every two minutes or so and refresh the tiles accordingly. If you mouseover a tile the window will ‘fisheye’ slightly, similar to the OSX dock. Click on the tile to expand it to a readable size and then if you decide you want to go to the story then double click the expanded image to open it in your web browser.

You can close the application by right clicking the little rss icon in your system tray and hitting Exit, or if you encounter problems then close the process newsview.exe in your task manager.

You will need the .NET2 framework to run this and the installer should point you in the right direction if you don’t have it. Failing that then go here to download it manually.

I stress this is a little alpha level experiment, but if you do encounter problems then I’m only too happy to help, just leave me a comment here and I’ll try and fix any bugs you may find. What I’m really looking for though is some feedback on the interface: Is it simple enough? Can you see the result clearly? Would you use a search engine that delivered results in this manner?

To download ‘DiggTop’ click here and enjoy.


Why You Should Criticise The Tech You Love

Ever since I was five years old and we had our first home computer – a BBC – I’ve been programming.

No one ever taught me how, in those days I would spend hours trying to learn how the processes worked, happy to sit and debug until I understood.

At school I was no great mathematician I admit but I still spent all my time outside of school programming as much as I could, being fascinated with computer games and the internet in general. I learned that the math happened in my head, and my ability to learn new languages and read patterns was very useful. My first websites in html, and then PHP were shambolic but I persevered despite going to many schools, my parents were in the RAF so travel was a major part of my life.

At university I was unimpressed with my course – with exams on how to use Microsoft Word, I realized my potential wasn’t being reached and I left with the offer of a position abroad in Cyprus on a long term contract.

When I returned I was surprised to find I was in demand and felt in the right place for the first time as a professional when I joined an advertising agency’s new ‘E-Communications’ department as developer ahead of hundreds of other applicants with degrees and more experience in industry. Since then I’ve worked on websites and advertising for companies from Walmart to Sony and across many different market sectors.

In the UK, I can now go for any position I want and feel confident I’ll get it, I turned down a position at a major search engine in order to take my current job. That’s because they can push me and use my to my potential. In the UK there are no jobs in search related fields that aren’t SEO and I don’t want to sell my work to a company who won’t use it effectively.

I do enjoy it, being able to work with designers and with an energetic team enables me to work as hard there as I have everywhere else. I strive for perfection in my work and enjoy the social life – I’m not a typical nerd as defined by stereotype. I’m keenly competitive as a sportsman.

I have ideas I can’t implement, I write down implementations that will never be used and concepts I will never have a response on.

When people ask me; ‘isn’t programming boring, how do you cope’, I tell them that programming is an art to me, it’s not just science, with an end result that can be beautiful and stunning.

This is what I look for in my work, this is what motivates me to write, I need an output for all the ideas that may never happen. People accuse me of not knowing about search, or being too critical of search companies but understand; this is my passion.

I welcome criticism myself, it lets me grow and adjust my ideas and without it what compass would I have. Look around this blog you’ll find comments calling me a f**king moron. Why would I delete a passionate response to an article that I wrote from the heart?

In the coming months, my first commerical search engine, running entirely on your own PC desktop will be released. It has features you’ll have never seen before I promise you that, it may well revolutionise the way you search for documents, web pages and folders. Rather than telling me it’s crap and I’m a f**king moron (if that’s how you feel), it’d be great if you’d tell me why you think that – and how you’d change it. Then I promise to answer you in kind.

I have a lot of respect for the readers who don’t like what they see, because I feel the same way when I write about a lack of innovation in search. If you don’t criticise what you love, it’ll stay the same whilst you as a human being never will. You’re changed by the criticism, praise and ideas of those around you.

Please, keep trolling.