20 search engines that do something different

6th Dec 2010 | 10:39

20 search engines that do something different

New and interesting ways to find what you want online

20 search engines that do something different

The days of typing a couple of simple words into a text box to find websites are over. The future of search will see us being presented with what we want, without us realising we're performing a search.

Imagine search engines that are able to understand voice commands and act on them intelligently; that can understand how we talk in real life; that can identify objects from a photograph we've taken or from a barcode that we're pointing our phone at; that can use where we are in the world to find relevant results; that can find the right point in a TV programme from us saying a quote from it; and that can use our social profile on Facebook to show us what we like, who we like and what we might want to share.

All this may sound like pie in the sky, but these technologies exist and the companies behind them are fighting to be the next big thing in search. Here are 20 sites that offer the future now, even if no individual one ends up taking the Google throne just yet…

1. Vlingo - Voice-based search

Why type when you can just say what you want to find? Vlingo is a phone app that lets you say "Coffee shops in Soho" to your phone, and opens up a Google map with all of them marked on it.

There have already been five million downloads, so there's no question that there's a demand for this kind of app. It may be easy to dismiss it as a gimmick, but if you believe the company's claim that using voice commands to complete your tasks gets them completed two and a half times faster, it could be a real time-saver over the next few years.

2. Siri - Voice-based personal assistant


Siri, the mobile personal assistant, works in similar ways – voice activated, and using location mapping and a mash-up of various websites to complete tasks for you, such as booking a taxi or buying tickets to see a film.

Just launch the app, say something like "Book a romantic French restaurant in Soho for 7.30" and Siri converts your words into text, asks you to confirm it's got it right, then gets to work. Siri consults restaurant review sites to find an appropriate romantic restaurant at your location, and then goes to a site such as OpenTable to check for reservations and to book your table. It then displays the result and you click a button to confirm.

Siri was recently acquired by Apple, so we see big things in its future.

3. TinEye - Reverse image search

Moving from voice to images, the website and phone app TinEye, from Idée Inc, lets you find upload an image and find where it's used on the web. It searches using the image itself, and according to its creators, it's the "first image search engine on the web to use image identification technology rather than keywords, metadata or watermarks".

When you submit your reference image, TinEye creates a unique fingerprint based on its composition, and then searches the 1.5 billion images in its database for others with the same or a partial fingerprint match. This means it only returns images that are the same as the original, rather than of a similar subject matter.

It can also find instances of the image that are digitally altered, making it ideal for finding copyright infringers.

4. Pikadeo - Find products with your phone camera

Pikadeo is an image-recognition tool that lets you use your cameraphone to identify a product, such as a CD or DVD. Pikadeo says it can deal with poor-quality shots and even deformations of the image – if you were taking a picture of a plastic bag, for example – and can recognise products from posters, packaging, magazine pages and labels.

Pikadeo uses image-matching software to find the product and provide a mash-up page of places to buy it, its Wikipedia entry, mentions of it on review sites and links to sites such as IMDB.

It has over 200,000 entries over five categories, so you should be able to find information on at least the most common products you photograph.

5. Mobile Concierge - Tracking where you shop

A different type of product search comes from Mobile Concierge, developed by Cisco Systems and IBM. It uses precise geolocation to provide you with information and offers on the products around you while you shop.

Once you sign up to the shop's app it can track your position down to the metre, providing you with information and deals specific to the aisle you're on or the product you're passing.

These 'micro-location'-based services change according to your loyalty to the shop and your previous shopping habits there. You can also search the store's products, and be led there by a virtual map.

6. ScanLife - Search by barcode

ScanLife turns your cameraphone into a barcode scanner, letting you search for prices and information at the click of a button.

There's no need to search by keywords or type in a long web address as the barcode will take you directly to the correct product and let you know if you're about to be ripped off, thanks to its price comparison. Before making an investment, you can also check what other people think about the product through the reviews.

7. 123people - Real-time people search

Ever wondered how easy it is to find details about you or someone else on the web? 123people is a real eye-opener.

Just type in someone's name and it provides a real-time mash-up of where that name is mentioned on various websites. That includes YouTube, Twitter and IM accounts, pictures and videos tagged with that name, listings on phone sites such as 192.com that show how long the person has been at their current address, their age bracket and who they live with. It even pulls out Amazon wish lists!

It's an impressive demonstration of just how much information is available about you online.

8. Klout - Social media authority search

Klout has made it its mission "to accurately measure and provide context around who a person influences and the specific topics they are most influential on". It provides a measure of your authority in the social sphere – specifically, Twitter.

This may sound prosaic, but this could be an important factor in how real-time searches offered by sites such as Bing or Google will be displayed in the future. Google already ranks by authority for its main web results (it decides this by monitoring the number of people linking to your site), so wouldn't it make sense to order posts based on your perceived authority in the subject?

9. Xyggy - Item-based search


Forget text or image-based searching – how about searching with anything at all? Xyggy is based on how humans learn new concepts and generalise.

As founder Dinesh Vadhia says, "Do we use keywords when we search for that childhood photo? Yet text-search is the dominant mode in our digital lives. Imagine a world of search where everything is an item that can be dragged in and out of the Xyggy search box to find similar items in ranked order."

Xyggy uses a framework called Bayesian Sets, which can recognise relationships between different objects. This means that you can hone your search by adding different items to the Xyggy search box. If you're a fan of patents, you can try out Xyggy Patent – you enter one idea and immediately see anything similar in ranked order.

10. Haika - Semantic search

Haika is a search engine built from scratch using semantic principles to ensure results as close as possible to what the user typed in.

It calls the technology behind the search engine QDEXing, which focuses on natural language processing methods to deliver 'meaningful' search results. It pulls in results from the general web, news sites, blogs, Hakia Galleries, something it calls 'credible sources' (typically Wikipedia), video and images.

Recipe search, visual search, and more

11. Yummly - Semantic food search portal

There are a lot of sites out there that aggregate food recipes from around the web, but Yummly is one of the most powerful because of the way it's been programmed to understand semantic food connections like 'olive oil is found in Mediterranean cooking'.

You can filter the 500,000 recipes listed on the site by type of food, course, ingredients, allergies, nutritional values, price, cuisine, time and taste. It will even recalculate the amount of ingredients needed when cooking the recipe for different numbers of people.

12. Cpedia - Encyclopaedia pages populated by search term

Imagine that instead of getting a numbered list of separate results on entering a search term, you got a magazine-like article containing all the information the search engine found on that topic. Well, that's the idea behind Cpedia, developed by ex-Google employees Anna Patterson and Russell Power.

In use, it's a bit hit and miss, with results becoming garbled as it tries to remove duplication from the various sources pulled in by your search term.

However, this does mean more original facts are pulled out in the report it generates than are apparent in a typical search, so as the algorithm develops, it really could revolutionise how we gather information from the web.

13. Flokoon - Visual search for media


Flokoon lets you explore the web in a more visual way than straight text searching. It's about media, pulling sounds from Last.fm, videos from YouTube and images from Fotolia.

The interesting thing is the way it displays those results. Using a hub-and-spokes visual representation that uses images to represent the artists/videos/songs, the relationships between the results are much easier to follow than regular descriptions could be.

14. TotalGuide EPG - Search via your TV


Who says you have to search using a computer or a phone? The latest televisions and set-top boxes come with their own hard drives and built-in connections to your PC, or direct to the web.

The latest Electronic Program Guides (EPGs) don't restrict themselves to showing you what's on TV now – they can access other devices and browse any media, be it video, picture or sound, from any connected source.

Rovi's TotalGuide is one of the most interesting. It can track content on online services, video on demand, cable and satellite services, social media networks and even storage devices around the home.

It also has a search feature called Six Degrees of Discovery, where you just highlight your favourite programmes or actors and let the EPG find similar content for you.

15. Hulu Captions Search - Video caption search

Closed captions are the subtitles encoded into video for the deaf and hard of hearing, and they're included on most professionally made programmes and films. Sites such as YouTube are trialling systems that analyse the speech in video and automatically add closed captions.

These closed captions are timecoded text transcripts of what's being said, making them a useful data source to find particular phrases or subjects. Hulu, the US video-streaming site, has picked up on that and produced a closed captions search tool.

Say you want to find a particular quote in a TV series and jump straight to it – just type, for instance, "Ah, beer. The cause of and the solution to all of life's problems," and it will jump to the right minute of the right episode of The Simpsons so you can hear Homer say it.

It's in beta at the moment, and unfortunately Hulu remains a US-only service, but it may become a very powerful media-finding tool in the future.

16. Blinkx - Video search

Blinkx uses a variety of techniques such as speech recognition, visual analysis and facial analysis to log as much information from videos as possible. It's been around for a while in website form, and has indexed some 35 million hours of video, but its creators have plans to make the jump to set-top boxes in the very near future.

Blinkx founder Suranga Chandratillake explained to our sister site TechRadar, "If you type in Marrakesh, then the search will pick up every time on travel programs that the city is mentioned, eventually building up a whole stack of content centred around one subject. You will be able to define what you are interested in and essentially create your own compilation clip show catering to your interests and needs."

17. Wikitude - Augmented reality encyclopaedia

Wouldn't it be nice if, upon your arrival in a strange city, you could point your phone at a building and have it tell you something of the building's history and point out other places of interest around it?

Wikitude does exactly that, and it's becomiing more useful and powerful by the day. With 10,000 points of interest that mash up geolocation, augmented reality and Wikipedia entries, it surely won't be long before you can legitimately cancel the tour guides.

18. Monocle on Yelp - Augmented reality reviews

Yelp probably isn't a new name to you – it's a business review site with the mission "to connect people with great local businesses". And it's working – there are over 12 million user reviews on the site, covering services from restaurants and bars to mechanics and dentists.

What's new, though, are the Yelp phone apps, which use augmented reality to let you point your phone at a restaurant and be told what other people think about it. It will also let you know if there are any money-off vouchers available for nearby businesses, as well as guiding you to recommended places using a virtual map feature.

19. Nomao - Social-based personalised location search

Instead of having to join a new site, it would be easier if you could just search your friends' recommendations on sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Nomao is one good place to do this.

It's a personalised, location-based social search engine that offers you "results based on what you like". It helps you find places like bars and restaurants based on previous places you've 'liked', on what your Facebook friends have 'liked' and from recommendations garnered from across the web.

It can display these results via augmented reality, so you can find recommended venues just by pointing your phone at likely contenders.

20. Panorama - Let your browser take the wheel


Panorama (formerly Tab Candy) is a feature coming to Firefox 4.0 in the near future that gets rid of the problem of losing track of a browser tab when you have lots open at once.

It enables you to pull out to see your tabs as screenshots in an Expose-style bird's-eye view. It also lets you organise tabs into labelled groups – say, 'Later reading' and 'Fun'. More interestingly though, it will enable you to share groups of tabs with your friends, and its search functionality lets you browse among your own tabs, your friends' recommended sites, and even those of strangers.

What's more, Panorama will provide links to other sites that are related to the subject being displayed on the tab you're on, be it similar subjects, similar pictures, prices or reviews for products you're looking at.


First published in PC Plus Issue 301

Liked this? Then check out Google expert outlines future of search

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