Viewzi`s Various Views of Search

In the first part of this article I introduced you to Viewzi, a visual search engine that takes a different approach to visual search by suiting the interface to the type of query made by the user. I only showed you a couple of Viewzi’s views. In this article, I’m going to show you a number of the other views, compare results with Google, and finally discuss Viewzi’s possible future.

Since Viewzi is a visual search engine, we’ll resume with a visual search. My search term is “brass goggles,” and I’m going to start with the basic photo view. This view now searches Flickr and SmugMug; at the time I wrote the previous article, it searched Riya instead of SmugMug. And by the time this article is published, it might search different sites, though Flickr will probably still be in the mix. Chalk it up to Viewzi’s beta status and the hunt for the combination that will give searchers the best results. Anyway, here’s a screen shot of my results:

So what’s awesome here? This is the view with small images. As you’d expect from Viewzi if you read my previous article, you can hover your cursor over any image you want to see a large version of it, along with its title and URL. This is the default look of the basic photo view, with small images; you can change to large images with just a click of your mouse. Even after making this change, you can hover over images to view larger versions. In other words, you can view every image in three different sizes.

The 3D Photo Cloud is a quirky view that takes a little practice to figure out. Here’s a screen shot to give you a basic idea:

 
Those images and keywords bounce around the screen, moving, enlarging, and reducing in response to your mouse and the zoom control in the upper left corner. The directions (which disappear once you use the zoom) explain that you can click anywhere to add more search fields to refine your search, and click on terms to surface more photos. It can be a fun way to discover related keywords. Click on a photo and it enlarges tremendously, showing the title and URL underneath; click it again to return to the view of the cloud.

What if I’m working on a steampunk costume and decide it would be cheaper for me to buy brass goggles rather than try to make them? It’s time to use the everyday shopping view. I honestly think this view will be very popular with anyone who shops online. It searches Amazon, eBay, Target and Wal-Mart, and puts them all on one screen.

Clicking on one of these four images zooms it to the whole screen, so you can see individual products and prices. Clicking on a product once you’ve zoomed in takes you to the URL where you can buy it or bid on it. You can easily zoom back out by clicking on empty space. Here’s a screen shot where I’ve zoomed in on eBay; notice the arrows on either side that let me shift to zoomed-in versions of the other online shopping destinations.

So, if I’m putting together a steampunk costume for a science fiction masquerade contest, is there any music available that might enhance my presentation? Given the most common era for steampunk stories, “Victorian music” would make for a good search. Here’s what you get with the album view:

The bar just below the phrase “Victorian Music” at the upper left lets you zoom in or out to see larger or smaller versions of the album covers. Hovering over the images gives you green tool tips with the titles of the albums. Not enough information? You’ll have to be quick, then, because just for a second when you hover you’ll get a bouncing green bar that says “More/Buy.” When you click on “More,” you get more information about the album – quite possibly enough to tell whether it’s suitable for your purposes. Here’s an example:


Again, I’m really sorry I had to resize this, because it’s very readable in the original. You can scroll through the titles of the songs on the album, and buy it from Amazon. Clicking on the “Buy Album” button takes you directly to the album’s page on the online retailer’s web site.

If you want to listen to some music, try the MP3 view. You’ll need to be more specific than I was in the album view; a search for “Victorian Music” didn’t turn up anything for me, but “The Greatest American Hero” turned up the appropriate TV theme song. Along with the title and source (where known), you get the playing time and a clickable arrow that lets you play the MP3 right from the search results.

This might be a good view to use in conjunction with the album view to discover music you might like. Start with the album view to do a general search; then, when you find out enough to pique your interest, choose a few tracks from the album to search for using the MP3 view, so you can actually listen to the music.

Before I tell you how Google compares, I want to show you one more screen shot. I tried searching for “steampunk” on Viewzi’s video view. Again, you won’t get the full benefit of this, because some of the videos are rolling, showing you short clips of what you’ll see if you click through.


If you move your cursor along one of those three strips, it scrolls smoothly. Also, there’s a row of words above the images. These are tags, which you can click on to remove all videos tagged with that particular word. So if I’m interested in steampunk in general, but NOT steampunk guitars, I can remove all the videos that use “guitar” as one of their tags.

So how does Google compare? I’d give Viewzi the edge here, but Google is no slouch. Here’s a screen shot for a general search on steampunk:

 

Here’s a screen shot of the same search using the video option; note that you can play at least one video right from the results.

Finally, to keep things even, here’s a screen shot of an image search using the keyword “brass goggles.”

Arguably, this compares well to Viewzi’s basic image search. In fact, there seems to be more on-topic results. On the other hand, with Viewzi’s images, you can zoom in without ever leaving the site, which may save you a little time clicking back and forth with images that turn out not to suit your needs.

I like the way Viewzi displays its information, and lets you manipulate and interact with the results. I also appreciate the wisdom behind Viewzi’s decision to focus each view on specific sites for results, but I’d like to see them include more than two or three sites (or in some cases one) in a view. I expect they’ll expand as they go along; Viewzi is in beta after all. I will say that Viewzi seems to return reasonably good results even with its current limits.

The views I covered in this article and the previous one just scratch the surface as far as the kinds of visual search that Viewzi offers. And it’s going to get crazier. According to a recent blog post on the site, “Each week, at least one new view will launch – sometimes a few at once.” A movie viewer and a blog search viewer are in the works. And of course, they’re hiring. Currently they’re looking for a web design superhero, a PHP rock star, a DHTML/JavaScript/CSS fanatic, and a Flash AS3 ninja (their descriptions, not mine).

Jason Kincaid writing for TechCrunch told of some really exciting steps that Viewzi plans to take in the future. Though right now searchers can only use views that have been created by Viewzi’s developers, the company plans to “roll out an API in the near future which will allow users to create their own views, and eventually hopes to make a WYSIWYG ‘View Maker’ that will allow anyone to create their own views.” That has some real potential, if the views created by the “View Maker” are as fun to interact with as the ones that have been professionally created.

Speculating further on this point, imagine what would happen if Google and Viewzi struck a deal. For the ultimate do-it-yourself experience, combine a Google Custom Search Engine with a custom-made Viewzi view. Granted, quite a few of the results would be ugly, just as there are many ugly web sites online. But it would also offer an opportunity for sheer brilliance to shine through.

Rafe Needleman, writing for Webware, noted what is perhaps Viewzi’s greatest strength: it’s not really a search engine. As he explains, “the company is, in essence, trying to act as the broker between users and search engines, by doing two things: Sending search queries to multiple engines at once, and by taking search results and displaying them in better (or at least different) ways than the search companies are doing now.” It’s an extremely clever idea; it means that  Viewzi doesn’t need to index the whole web, and that Google isn’t really Viewzi’s competition.

That doesn’t mean that the two companies won’t compete on some level. I’d be very surprised if Google doesn’t have something like at least a few of Viewzi’s views in the works. In any case, I’d definitely keep an eye on new developments at Viewzi. Yes, there are some issues, as you would expect for a beta, but the company’s views make searching on the Internet fun again, and that’s saying something. 

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