I should really begin by disclosing my current loyalty to the Google search engine. The simplicity of the user experience combined with the elegance of the search algorithm could of course always be improved, but I question those who feel the system calls for revolutionizing.
Yet that is what is being attempted by Qwiki, the new search engine start-up. According to CEO Doug Imbruce, he got the idea for Qwiki after getting tired of having to sift through the same list of blue links whenever he searched on Google. He felt that it was unnecessary that he, the user, had to do so much filtering to find the content he wanted, and imagined a search engine that would do the work for him. In addition, he wanted to move away from the static list of links and to create a rich multimedia experience.
Qwiki, which is now in invite-only alpha release, certainly achieves both goals. Type in a search query, and you are essentially presented with a slideshow of related images, accompanied by a female robotic voice reading you information about the topic. No searching through lists of links to find the relevant material, and the visual experience truly is aesthetically beautiful (except for the robotic quality of the voice).
That being said, I cannot imagine a time where I will ever opt for this form of search engine. Imbruce wanted to build a program that would do all the aggregation work for the user, but in doing so, he has removed the user control that typifies Web 2.0. The name “Qwiki” is a portmanteau for “quick wiki,” as it was originally designed so that users would be able to aggregate the content and design the individual entries like Wikipedia, but Imbruce ended up opting to let the program itself do the work, and, unfortunately, it shows. The entries do not read like what you expect to find in a modern internet search. Rather, they harken back to the days of Encarta: type in a simple search term (try much of anything beyond a simple or proper noun, and you will get no results at all), and the service responds with a predictable Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Looking for anything a bit more in depth? Currently, you are out of luck.
This type of service may be useful to an internet novice, but to anyone doing actual research it will prove little help at all. In addition, I suppose that it is a novel idea to have someone reading the text to me and to save me the work of having to read it myself, but in what context would that be desirable? Am I meant to be furiously taking notes while the mechanical voice is talking to me? By the way, the voice is impossible to pay attention to. It’s total lack of inflection causes me to zone out almost instantly.
Like I said, the service is currently in it’s alpha release, so I sincerely hope that it will soon be adapted to a much more utilitarian format. Also, I give the designers full credit for legitimately reimagining search. Qwiki is entirely unlike anything I’ve used or seen, and it really does have a futuristic feel to it. As it stands now, however, I truly cannot imagine a scenario when this sort of search engine would be at all appealing for me. Try it for yourself and see what you think. Maybe I’m missing something. Visit Qwiki.com for invites.