Visualize Searching with Quintura

When we’re used to search engines working in one particular way, it’s hard to visualize how search might work differently. Sure, we can imagine search engines delivering more relevant and accurate results, but how will they do it? Quintura offers one possibility.

The company was founded a little over a year ago by three Russians involved with computers and neural networks. It boasts a search engine with patent-pending technology based on a decade of research conducted by these three gentlemen. The whole idea behind Quintura’s approach is to make Web search easier and faster by adding a visual element: a cloud of keywords surrounding your main search through which you can navigate to increase the relevance of your results.

“Our team approached the problem of finding Internet-based information and entertainment from the standpoint of the user,” explained Yakov Sadchikov, CEO and co-founder of Quintura. “We strived to build something that made it as easy as possible for the user to find exactly what they are looking for as quickly as possible. We also wanted to make the user experience very visual and more enjoyable, so we built in visual navigation technologies that are more appealing to users.”

While Quintura features Russian founders and a Russian management team, it is a U.S. corporation with offices in Alexandria, Virginia. Not surprisingly, though, its software development operations are located in Moscow. It has received backing from Mangrove Capital Partners, who also invested in Skype early on.
The phrase “web 2.0″ has been tossed around almost to the point of making it meaningless; even so, Quintura made it onto a “Sacred Cow Dung” open directory of all things web 2.0. You can find it listed under search engines – along with no less than 174 other search engines. So Quintura is not uniquely web 2.0.
 
It’s not unique in taking a visual approach to search either. As Search Engine Watch correctly points out, Kartoo, Mooter, and WebBrain went live with a visual approach to search before Quintura. So what does Quintura offer that’s different? To understand that point, you need to take the search engine for a test run.

Quintura claims that its interface is intuitive and easy to use, but if you’re like me, you’ll benefit from taking the search engine’s animated tour before actually giving it a try. It’s a very short video (just under a minute and a half). As near as I can tell, it doesn’t have an audio component, and doesn’t need one; I didn’t have my speakers on.
 
Quintura’s home page is divided into two sections. The top half contains the search box; you can search on either the web or images. To the right of the search box you can click on options for saving your search, sharing it with a friend (sending your search to them via email), or simply sending an email to a friend to invite them to discover Quintura for themselves. When you perform a search, it is this half that contains your search cloud.

The bottom half actually scrolls up and down. Before you conduct a search, it contains information that explains how to use the service, including a link to the tour; in addition, you can click on the “About Quintura” link to find out more about the company, or check out its blog. You can also send feedback or click on a link for help; this gives you a non-animated overview with lots of links. I recommend the link labeled “search examples” because it contains much of the same information as the animated video, but in a non-animated format that you can take your time digesting.
 
There’s also a link that lets you adjust the search engine’s settings. You can adjust three things. The size of your search cloud can be adjusted to any number of keywords between 10 and 30; the default is 20. You can select to auto-refine your results or not; if you do, Quintura downloads more relevant links each time you point to a keyword on your visual map (default is on). Finally, you can adjust the animation quality of your visual map; the faster the PC, the higher the animation quality it can support. The default is none – and being old-fashioned, I let that stand.
 
Incidentally, it’s almost more accurate to refer to Quintura as an interface rather than a search engine in its own right. It’s a way you can interact with search results. Yahoo is the engine behind those results. In any case, that’s more than enough background; it’s time to try it out.

Okay, I decided to give one of my favorite queries a try: “juggling.” I left the cloud at 20 words and this is what I turned up:


 
Okay, if you’re an SEO and you’re particularly alert to possible new tools, you should be perking up right about now. If you look at the word in the context of this cloud, you see a lot of possibilities for keywords – and a new way to find long tail keywords.

Of course, if you’re simply searching for information, you have this cloud that you may want to do some revision on before you look at the results on the lower half of the web page. Maybe you want to get a better feel for the context. If you run your mouse over one of the words in the cloud, you get a smaller cloud that focuses on that word. In my example, it looks like this:


 
Though you can’t see the pointer, here I put my mouse over the phrase “information service.” The phrase is in blue, and the cloud of words related to that specific phrase is darkened. What does an information service have to do with juggling? Not much apparently, except for sharing the word “club” with the juggling cloud. That little x icon to the right of information service lets me eliminate it from my cloud, along with some of the words related to it. When I clicked on that icon, it disappeared, and the cloud rearranged itself – but the words “information” and “club” remained, which was an appropriate response.
 
I’m something of a historian by training and inclination, and I see that “history” is included in my cloud of words. I can add it to my query by clicking on it. Or, if I like a word I see when I run my mouse over the word “history” and see its cloud, I can add one of those instead. I was sorely tempted to do so in this case, as there were several relevant words, including “vaudeville,” but refrained. My new cloud looks like this:


 
So far, so good…but hey, what happened to some of my keywords? I don’t see “circus” in there anymore, and of course the circus played an important role in juggling history. No problem; Quintura says you can add words that aren’t part of your query by clicking anywhere in the cloud and typing in the missing word.


 
You can eliminate words that aren’t visible in your cloud in the same way; just type a minus sign before the word you type into the search box.

Okay, so after all of this modification, what do you end up with? Well, here I have to agree with Search Engine Watch. You get the title of the page, the URL, keywords in context, and the size of the page, which is a little less than wonderful – a bare minimum, really. To Quintura’s credit that might be just enough to decide whether or not the link is relevant to your needs.

The real problem with the results is sadly inherent in the way Quintura currently works. Since the links are displayed in only half the screen, what you see looks pretty cramped:


 
While I did have to crop the image to fit it on the page, it does accurately show that you only see three results “above the fold” before you have to scroll. You can scroll down through a full 20 results though, rather than the more traditional 10 that most search engines show on a single page. The number of results you get per page does not seem to bear any relation to the number of words in your cloud; I tried it with 30 words in my cloud and still received 20 results per page. As you can see, Quintura highlights all of the terms on which you indicated you wanted it to focus through your manipulations of its cloud.

Quintura could improve on this. The way it stands now, both the cloud and the results section are fixed in size; that is, you can’t shrink the cloud or increase the size of the results section. So you always see three results, just three different results depending on how far you scroll. If Quintura adjusted its user interface so that you could minimize the cloud when you’re ready to look at your results, it would make the interface more comfortable to use. It would be even better if you could fully resize the cloud (so that it only takes up one small corner of your screen, for example) and then return it to its default size with the click of an onscreen button. While I’m wishing, it would be nice (though not necessary) for the cloud to be fully functional regardless of its size, so you can get a clearer picture of how your manipulations affect your search results.

On the one hand, Quintura adds a fun element to search by showing you some possibilities you might not have considered. But scrolling down through the final assortment of links, regardless of relevance, was almost physically painful because of how cramped it felt. To be fair, Quintura is still in beta, so it’s still fine tuning its approach.

I could see Quintura coming in handy in certain contexts. If you’re trying to brainstorm for keywords, this isn’t a bad place to experiment. If you’re new to search or trying to teach someone how to search on the Internet, showing them how to use Quintura could help, especially if they’re somewhat visually oriented; it might help them think of ways to make their search more specific, seeing that word cloud. If you’re stuck on a query at a different search engine and want to refine your approach, using Quintura’s search cloud could help reorient your thinking a little. Certainly, if you’ve been very frustrated with regular search engines, Quintura may be worth a try. But as an experienced web searcher, Quintura didn’t show me anything to make me want to switch from the search engine(s) I use every day. 

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