The explosion in data visualization is intriguing and distracting at the same time. We are still learning how to be a visual culture in some ways. Games and magazines? Got it. Less words, more pictures. Data sets? Getting closer, but the need to “explain” so many possible combinations and views is just too tempting. Web search? Forget it.
And what an odd problem that is. The Web, which in many ways is the roaring engine inside our visual lives, can’t be searched visually, at least not yet. I am waiting for the day when search is navigable by visualized clusters of related thoughts or dynamic-content pages, when the semantic associations across the Web blossom as intelligence forms and reforms. We’ll get there.
For now, we have a problem. While we know that “less copy” is the standard on the Web (“people don’t like reading online,” we’ve all been schooled), the only option we have to find what we want (not to read) is to…read. Long, long lists of often only marginally related links. It’s odd, really. Think about how often we click on links for what we don’t really want — to see if we’ve found the right page. This “mis-click” reverses the efficiency and accuracy of search, and disrupts its revenue model. It makes search more like “pre-search.” This is one reason why Bing has attacked Google for the “cacophony” of search results.
Of course, my complaint here is largely regarding text (i.e., Web, news) searches, not images. Bing has bested Google here, providing a sidebar of “all images” for any search term.
Why not do the same for text? A thumbnail of any Web page, immediately next to search results, would go a long way toward making results more useful. No “mis-click” required to say “that’s the page I want.” Embedding thumbnails into sidebars next to any blog would be useful, too. Do I really want to click on every link in a snappy article (like those on Unbound Edition)?
And this solution is here today. Amazon Web Services developed the Alexa Site Thumbnail service, but shuttered it last week, apparently not seeing the massive potential for helping to visualize Web searches. An innovative niche player, Shrink The Web stands to win big from Amazon’s short-sightedness. Sure, there are dozens of smaller, innovative, useful applications for their code in the media world — and their ability to capture “full page” views is especially attractive. The huge win, though, would be for Bing to shrink the web visually, and give us the same sidebar of “all results” on its text searches as well as image searches. Then, the cacophony of Web search results will really start to quiet a bit, and Web search will take a step forward in visualizing the visual world in which we all now live.
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