New Search Tools (well, new to me)

July 15, 2008

There are exciting things happening in the world of search (thank goodness) that we library people ought to be paying attention to. A search very that is very cool has recently come to my attention. It and others like it are essentially the result of the availability of APIs and the desire to create functional metasearch that is also usuable (previous metasearch tools have been, uh, clunky, and just paste together loads of results). These tools are also very visual in nature.

So, this thing is called PicLens, and I really like this one (it requires Firefox). It has your standard search box, so all of us know enough to type in some terms … easy. Then you get pick what things you are searching (you can search Flickr, Photobucket, Yahoo, Google, etc) and type in some terms (you can also select various categories of news).  The results are, in brief, visually stunning.  A wall of images appears that spans your entire screen and curves around you, as much as a flat screen can curve anyway. You can can travel up and down this wall and zoom in and out … then select something and it zooms right in to the full image (if it’s a movie, it will start playing at this point).

This actually works remarkably well somehow.  I have no problem selecting from images and finding lots of things of interest to me. It didn’t take more than a few minutes of browsing around to find an image from among the hundreds that actually had me in it at a recent concert in Louisville. I thought that this was an interesting phenomenon … I suspect that us humans are really quite good at looking at ridiculous numbers of images and pulling out things that are significant.  Now, when it comes to libraries, this will likely not be the best way to search for, say, scientific articles, but in its current state it could be a fantastic way to display the contents of one’s archival collections to the world (or anything else with a strong visual component). I would much rather browse an archive or museum visually (I mean, that’s what one does when one is actually there), than some type of lifeless keyword search).

Anyway, a cool tool … Piclens … I have it on all of the time now.

And, I was just thinking a little more ….. at least what I call thinking anyway.  Perhaps there is a visual way to search for such things as scientific articles.  I think perhaps rather than the old boring text metatags for articles, authors should start attaching visual metatags.  These could be diagrams, graphs, x-rays, molecular diagrams … anything visual that could then be browsed … don’t tell anyone, this is our secret.


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