Magazine article Communication World

Search Engines Smarten Up: A New Solution Lets Your Desktop Do the Work

Magazine article Communication World

Search Engines Smarten Up: A New Solution Lets Your Desktop Do the Work

Article excerpt

Does the advantage of "ubiquitous computing"--tech-speak for being connected to a computer and network no matter where you go--give you a better shot at searching and finding the information you need? Back in the late 20th century, communicators speculated about the marvelous gains in productivity to come once information became accessible through all sorts of portals and domestic appliances, from cell phones to refrigerators. According to this vision, real-time information and data sharing would be possible in a few mouse clicks.

But, as we now know, with information access comes information overload. The retrieval and sorting of usable data is one of the bigger headaches confronting us. There are some 11.2 billion web pages that are indexed--meaning that they show up on search engines--out of some 45 billion pages out there on the World Wide Web. As for the information that shows up as e-mail, there seems to be no intelligent life out there to help us manage it.

When Suranga Chandratil-lake, a software developer in Cambridge, England, clicked on his e-mail one day, some 2,000 messages landed in his inbox. He had just returned to work after a vacation, and he knew that a greater part of that week would be wasted sorting through the fluff to find the useful content. He would have to carefully save the information he needed in folders and name them in a way that would enable easy retrieval.

Of course, we've all had similarly traumatic post-vacation experiences. But Chandratillake was not just an inbox victim. He was in the business of solving information retrieval problems like this for his clients, at a company that designs industrial-strength search engines. Frustrated and challenged, he had an epiphany: Could the future of search involve solving the spare problem at the same time? He wondered what would happen if he designed a search application to scour not just the Internet, but also the folders on local hard drives and even those saved as e-mail. Information would be easy to retrieve using keywords. In fact, he thought, it would be possible to create "smart folders" that automatically populate themselves with content when a PC is connected to the Web.

Searching the Web and your PC

Blinkx, the search utility that Chandratillake launched, works like a search engine but resides on your desktop. It treats the PC and the Net as one integrated resource. This means that should you be searching for information using the keyword biotechnology, the engine could find and display web-based documents, video, audio, blogs and any document you have created on your PC. This includes outbound and incoming e-mail. If you want to search all the e-mail references to someone called Lorenzo, you no longer have to wade through your inbox, outbox, deleted messages, etc. Just enter his name and the results will pop up even before you have finished typing. It's that fast!

Blinkx is not supposed to be a replacement for traditional search engines, but you could treat it as a second-in-command, especially if you're struggling to manage and monitor incoming, archival and competitive information. As for the latter, there are many vendors that could monitor the competitive landscape for you (see "Tech Talk," CW, July-August 2005), but you could creatively use Blinkx to stay on top of things right from your desk--and it's free, too.

Staying on top of things is what these so-called smart folders do well, but something search engines don't usually help with. …

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