These services add voice recognition and results focused on meaning--but Microsoft's fresh-looking Tafiti engine may well make the biggest splash.
If you're ready for a new take on Web searching, a bunch of beta services are set to offer novel ways to search and to organize your results. Imagine stacking those listings on virtual shelves for easy retrieval the next time you need them, or flipping between results via 3D tabs. And now you can even troll for information by speaking your search terms to your cell phone. The beta services that are offering these and other innovations promise to turn conventional Web search on its ear.
Searching for Meaning
Google's relevance rankings have served Web searchers well, but search is more than a numbers game. Technology developed by Hakia attempts to extract meaning from phrases on the Web and in search queries. The service suggests that you search in phrases or questions, and those phrases are highlighted in the results to make them easier to browse. Hakia's SemanticRank algorithm is designed to consider the credibility of sources and to enable the engine to learn how to make better choices in the future.
But there are times when entering any text is inconvenient. If you're on the road and need to search via your mobile phone, you can speak your searches using Vlingo (currently available only to Sprint customers). Most phone-based voice-recognition systems accommodate a limited vocabulary, but Vlingo claims that its Hierarchical Language Models allow you to say anything and be understood. The system attempts to predict what a user is likely to say next based on the context of the previous words. Vlingo's technology also adapts to understand new words, and to improve accuracy by learning individual speech patterns as one uses the system.
Enter a term in the search box at Microsoft's Tafiti, click Go, and the service swirls into action: The search box slides to the top left, and five icons spin into view below it for searching the Web, news sites, images, books, or RSS feeds.
Tafiti's animated interface is one of the first apps developed for Microsoft's Silverlight environment (a technology challenging Adobe's ubiquitous Flash player).
Instead of sponsored links on the right side of the results, there are five empty shelves. Drag your results onto a shelf to save them in "stacks"; then log in to a Windows Live, MSN, or Hotmail account to see your saved searches the next time you open your browser. You can give your stacks names, send a stack to someone via e-mail, or post it to your Windows Live Space blog.
Search Gets Personal
If you're looking for someone rather than something, Spock may be able to help. After you create an account by providing your name, gender, and e-mail address, you fill out your profile by tagging yourself with your hometown, your interests, your high school or college, and any other information you wish. You can also choose to have a tagless profile, but where's the fun in that?
Of course, you can search for people by name, but you can also search for them by location, interest, age, sex, or other characteristic ("Incarcerated Celebrity" seems to be a favorite). The service keeps a history of your searches, and automatically lists your ten favorites.
There's a definite social aspect to Spock, and the demographic seems to skew to the 20s and 30s. But I'll wait before providing much data in my Spock profile, just to be on the safe side.