Thursday, July 15, 2004

Blinkx - A New Unified Search Application

Via Metafilter comes news about a new search application called Blinkx. This application not only provides support for web searching, but also for scouring the local filesystem, including the contents of email documents and Microsoft Word, Excel and PDF files.

So far, so mundane - these are all features that are either here already (albeit poorly implemented) or are close to being here. All the talk about using "artificial intelligence" rather than page ranking is also less than overwhelming - nobody cares what techniques are used to return search results as long as the results are considered highly relevant, and I'm sceptical that Blinx's "artificial intelligence" is good enough for it to prove a compelling alternative*. The one feature of this application that I find particularly noteworthy is its support for 3D visualization of search results, an issue which I've touched on in the past. This is indeed a major step forward, as no major search engine has yet to take such a step, though it's as natural a step as they come. As nice as it is to see someone take up this idea, though, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and I know of more than one operation that has come up with an underwhelming implementation that never really went anywhere (see, for example, these guys).

Unfortunately for Blinkx, I'm far too wary of Internet Explorer's security limitations to download any components that rely upon it to function, so I'll wait until they've got that sorted out before actually evaluating the quality of their offering.

*Truth be said though, one can do a lot better than Google currently does. For a start, there ought to be a way to partition search results based on word sense, i.e, typing in the word "Madonna" shouldn't return links to the Virgin Mary and Madonna Ciccione all jumbled up together. An even simpler improvement to Google would be to provide support for more than 10 items in query, and yet another would be to support regular expressions other than the " * " operator.

UPDATE: It turns out that there might be security issues with Blinkx after all; then again, maybe not. It all comes down to who you choose to believe, but this firm hasn't yet built enough brand equity for any sensible person to be willing to take its promises at face value. My suspicion is that anyone looking to offer unified web and local searching will either have to go with a straight subscription model, or deal with all sorts of worries about privacy and conflicts of interest.