Searchme : Cover Flow Meets Search (Yay?)

The folks at Searchme were kind enough to send me a beta invite into their visual search tool. Searchme presents search results in a cover flow style interface. After playing around with it a bit, I sent them a note:

I’m honestly dumbfounded with this. Beyond the "oh neat" initial impression – how is this useful? The cover flow style of perusing assets makes sense for large, easily-recognizable assets. For search results, I just don’t see how it makes sense.

I’ll admit that my impression is colored by the major backing that Searchme is enjoying – which I assume comes part-and-parcel with validation from some smart people. If a couple of guys had done this with Flash, I would have a very different impression. But I’m guessing that Searchme is a venture that seeks to become a full-fledged business. If Searchme does take off, it’ll be an important lesson for me to learn about how an application penetrates a market and ulitmately succeeds. Because right now, I just don’t see.

Soon after, Searchme responded back. Here’s the entire response verbatim:

Hi Rich:

You certainly are entitled to your opinion.  We have heard it before and we think  that for some people, looking at text just makes more sense.  You are one of those people, for sure!

But there are people out there for whom a visual representation is preferable. They want to recognize a page by it’s look (oh, its a wikipedia page, etc.) not it’s title.  Information wise, pictures are much richer than text, and we have heard hundreds of users who tell us that the like the alternative of looking and choosing pictures over words.

The wonderful thing about this world is that everyone is different and we embrace that, so please go ahead and post your view, you are entitled and encouraged to do so – thank you for telling us first.  We really appreciate your integrity.

Best,

Searchme Team

A day later, I got another response, I’m guessing from a different group or person within Searchme:

Hi, Rich-

We show pictures of web pages to help searchers “look before they leap.” with a traditional text-only list view, searchers fall into a rhythm of “click, back… click, back…”, as they review search results. this takes time. Enabling users to quickly see pictures of the pages in the results helps them in two ways. First, they can quickly scan the pictures and identify features like images, headlines, and brands that catch their interest. no more “click, back… click, back.” you know it when you see it. Second, searchers can also visually ~reject~ pages, pages that don’t look useful or relevant. A visual image provides users with additional data than can be useful in evaluating both individual search results, and also a set of search results.

Also, helping people narrow their search by category, as kara mentioned in the article, is another way to make results more aligned with the intent of the user. If we can disambiguate a query and capture user intent, we can serve pages only about the category that they want to see. and, just as importantly, we can omit the pages they don’t want to see.

Thanks so much for the feedback. We’ll make sure to pass it on to the appropriate people. We’re working really hard to make Searchme fun and easy to use. Stay tuned for some cool new features, and don’t forget to tell your friends to sign up for a beta invitation!

Thanks for trying out Searchme!

The Searchme Team

I’ve played with Searchme for about fifteen minutes so far. You could easily argue that I haven’t given it a chance. Still, I’m failing to see how illegible snapshots of web pages will prove to be superior to seeing a snippet of text just below a search result. Cover flow works well if you’re sifting through images (Piclens does an incredible job of displaying image search results).

pinkfloyd-album-dark_side_of_the_moon1 As for Apple’s implementation of it in iTunes, it makes sense there because you’re leveraging an association that a user has already created between an album and its visual "icon." Perusing search results is another matter altogether. To quickly weigh the value of a result, you need to know a little more about it and the great majority of destinations on the Web convey themselves through textual content.

In the end, it’s about how it feels in a real-world scenario. I hit Google probably 30-50 times a day. I’m going to try to block out some time and use it instead of Google and report back. My guess is I’ll grow annoyed within the first few searches and abandon it. But who knows. Check back soon!

6 Comments Searchme : Cover Flow Meets Search (Yay?)

  1. kyle

    totally agree with the evaluation of searchme. i tried it for about the same amount of time, and was equally unimpressed. doesn’t enhance the usability of search, in fact, i have to interact much more with the product than i do with more standard search fare.
    search has still has quite bit of way to go in terms of understanding user intent, as well as helping users discern authority and credibility of the results. to it’s credit, searchme does help mildy with the latter, but seemingly only where i’m already familiar with the website, where it’s power is similar to the icon in itunes.
    for my money, i’d rather see more time and effort on understanding intent and altering the result in a meaningful way that shows the user we know something about it. that, and credibility/authority of the results would be huge. google’s been doing a great job in the last year with intent, btw. really enjoying their more structured results that show up in more and more searches.
    kyle

    Reply
  2. Guy

    Richard,
    I really think this kind of serach might be useful at times – users can use visual associations to drop or click on search results, which might be appropriate for all kinds of uses.
    That being said, I’ve seen many pseudo cover flow implementations out there on the web, and most of them suffer from all kinds of interaction problems – they don’t scroll well, might not respond to mouse wheel events on particular browsers, might have problem with hover states, and such – what sets apple’s implementation apart is it’s incredible care to the details, and it’s great support for keyboard and mouse navigation.
    I really think that given such detail care (and some kind of visual diffrentiation), a quick image-based web search results can be useful.
    Guy.

    Reply
  3. Darren

    Searchme sounds as out-of-touch with the needs of their users as the folks at Snap.com, who developed those screenshot previews which trigger (often accidentally) on rollover.

    Reply
  4. Shanghai

    There are a lot of times when a quick visual representation is better for me than a million textual links:
    * When looking for information to make a handout for children, like the growth stages of tadpole to frog, or how to make a rain stick. Both are real searches I originally did in Google — SearchMe found me better sites than I’d originally used.
    * Searches for a rare commodity in a category that is overrun by keyword sites — like small, boutique hotels. Search “boutique hotel [AnyChineseCity],” and you’ll get pages and pages of “results” from websites that simply say that they have it, but don’t. On SearchMe, though, it was pretty easy for me to flip past those to the sites I was really looking for — the home pages of the small hotels who don’t understand SEO.
    There are other times when the visual content of a website is equally or more important than the text — when wanting to convince my husband of one vacation destination over another, for example.

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