Turning Google Instant Into a Quick Head Trip

As you might imagine I’ve been playing with Google Instant for about an hour now and I have lots and lots to write about. Expect a big ol’ article tomorrow. But in the meantime, I wanted to give you a quick tip that can turn Google Instant into a strange ramble through the Web.

Normally when you start typing in a query Google will try to anticipate what you’re looking for an will offer you search results based on its best guess. You can turn that behavior off if you put a + in front of the first query word. When you do that Google will refresh constantly as you type until you a) reach the end of your query or b) type something it has no results or suggestions for.

I took a poem from Pablo Neruda: The Tree Is Here, Still, In Pure Stone, and the line fire in the forest, blaze of the dust-cloud. Typing +fire in the forest, blaze of the dust-cloud slowly into Google (well, slower than I usually type) found the results refreshing with every word typed. News about wildfires flickered by a definition of “Fire in the hole,” which was followed by a kid’s book, Blaze and the Forest Fire — and I never actually found any results that had to do with Pablo Neruda’s poem.

Starting +The Count of Monte Cristo took me lots of images of Count Von Count of Sesame Street. Typing in the lyrics to a Laurie Anderson song took me to Flickr pages, lots of sun-related music videos, and finally Sharkey’s Day. Typing in primary colors took me to Simply Red, then people, then huge chromatic explanations.

It’s like the biggest, most open free association game ever. If I could somehow hook this up to Wolfram|Alpha’s random word features, I think I might be able to make my cerebral cortex explode. Wait, that’s not a good thing, is it…

Bing’s Adding some Features

What’s the opposite of spring cleaning? Spring adding? Spring enhancing? Whatever it is, Bing is doing it, with an announcement last week of new features coming up on its Web site.

The first thing is the Quick Tabs in the Explore Pane at the left of the search results. The links here are sort of a combination of clustered search and context. If you do a search for Dallas, for example, you’ll get general links to Dallas events and Dallas weather and Dallas jobs, but you’ll also see related searches like Dallas TV Show, Dallas Morning News, etc. Bing is testing moving some of this data to the top of the page for better/faster/more obvious access. I’m not seeing this yet, but I hope the results are true tabs (easy to get back to original results.) Bing is doing a good job of helping users easily add context to their searches and get key data from their searches with their left nav.

Bing is also riding that real-time bandwagon. It’s already teamed with Twitter and has started testing “new experiences for real-time results.” Also in its own words: “For example, when you search for a publication such as the New York Times, Bing not only gives you quick access to specific sections of the destination website, but also provides the most popular shared links from that publication.” When I did a search for New York Times I got a first result that looked like this:

In this case the latest links at the bottom were not, as far as I could tell, the most popular. Instead they were the latest items from the NYT feed. The “Latest Posts” feed links to an XML file. Searching for Washington Post and LA Times didn’t find any latest posts. However, searching for Dallas Morning News did find a search result for the latest stories.

From Bing Cool to Bing Pfui. Bing also announced a new feature called Map App. Map App shows real-time data from foursquare on the map you specify. Sounds neat, right? I’ll have to take Bing’s word for it; I can’t get it to run. I’ll hold off on my rant about Adobe Flash and now Microsoft Silverlight… gaaaaah.

The map app aside, I’m looking forward to integration of more shortcuts to important data in search results, and, hopefully, some more credible real-time than a random Twitter stream.

Real-Time Search Engine Collecta Gets an API

Real-time search engine Collecta, which I covered last July, has announced recently that it’s launching a new API. Since I’m still mourning the Google’s SOAP API, which died this month, I went over to take a look at it.

The API documentation is available at http://developer.collecta.com/. It looks kind of like some of the New York Times API and the Amazon product information API before all that authentication became required. You make an HTTP GET request to a certain URL and get the results back in ATOM format. The query language is very simple — default AND, operators for excluding words and specifying phrases, and one special syntax for category.

A key is required for using the API, and there is a limit on use, but it’s pretty generous — at the moment it’s 250 HTTP requests per hour per key. (You can also ask for the limit to be waived/raised.) There is at this writing no fee to use the API or to get a key.

If you want to see how the API’s being put to use, there are a couple of applications in the API Gallery. One of them tracks information from the Python community around the Web, and another one tracks mentions of President Obama. If you look at these and think you can do better, you might want to check out the Collecta Real-Time Search API Challenge — from now through October 8, Collecta is having a contest to find the best (most useful/creative/etc) use of its API. There will be winners of Collecta schwag but the first price is a Macbook Pro.

Carry on coding. Or at least RESTing up some nifty query URLs….

CampusCompare Launches Social Media Stream for College Information

College search engine CampusCompare has launched a social media stream to provide additional information about colleges beyond what data it’s already making available. The URL for CampusCompare is http://www.campuscompare.com/, but to get to “College Current” (what it’s calling the social media stream) you’ll have to dig around a little…

I had never been to this college search engine; it’s nice. From the home page you can choose a variety of factors to start your search including state, major, career, etc. You can even look at a full A-Z listing of all colleges.

I chose to look at colleges in Arizona. I got 116 results but sliders on the search results would let me narrow my results down still further, by things like number of students, whether it’s public or private, and so on.

When you initially click on a college to look at it, you’ll get a lot of reference-type information. There’s notes on academics, financial aid, room and board, campus services, and a lot more. (Of course, not all campuses have information for each of those topics.) For a completely different take on the campus, click on the College Current tab and you’ll get a screenshot like the one below.

College Current

College Current aggregates videos, photos, Twitter, and RSS feeds to give the user another take on the campus. Frankly I didn’t know what I’d think about this when I first read about it. I thought the tweets would be fairly meaningless and the multimedia wouldn’t be extensive. But I was wrong. The tweets were a lot better than I thought; the ones I looked at were a good mix of student commentary, event and resource announcements, and even some job postings. (Note that there doesn’t seem to be any filtering to the tweets so you will see some bad language, etc.) The multimedia was more pervasive; I saw several campuses that didn’t have anything in the line of Twitter or RSS feeds, but they had plenty of video multimedia and most of them had photos.

When you’re looking around for a campus you have to have the regular reference type material to give you information on which you can base your decisions. But I liked the College Current; it provides a whole other, more dynamic, perspective on the school. You know what would be really neat though? Aggregating the tweets for each college and making TAG CLOUDS, then searching the clouds. Find your college by concept!

Another Real-Time Search Engine — Itpints

Are you ready for another real-time search engine? You’re not? Too bad! If search engine history repeats itself, we’re due for another 12-18 months of real-time search engine releases with new features and offerings piling up to the sky. Then there will be some kind of shakeout and we’ll be left with 3-4 solid ones.

So until then let’s tour the gallery! itpints is available at http://www.itpints.com/ and — brace yourself — it’s in beta. You can do a simple keyword search or you can do an “advanced search,” which is really just specifying what kind of information you want to find. (Options here include blogs, social sites, lifestreaming, video, and images.)

I did a search for dinner and was most impressed with the fact that the search results weren’t just Twitter. Twitter wasn’t even in the majority of the results. Instead there were several blog comments, entries, Digg, etc. I didn’t see any Twitter in the first few pages of search results.

An annoyance: you don’t seem to be able to page both back and forth in the search results. I could go to older results, but once there I could not page back to the newest results. On the other hand, Itpints has gone out of the way to make it easy to share search results, with a “Share” button that allows you to post an item to Twitter, Facebook, etc. Another good thing: RSS feeds are prominently available for search results.

It’s not as “hot” a term as “real-time search engine”, but it seems to me that Itpints would be great to use as a blog comment search engine, especially since it has search-based RSS feeds.