Visual Search is worth a Thousand Words

 A few years ago, when compiling information for one of my projects concerning desalination facilities, I came upon a completely different search engine – Grokker - that displays search results as a visual map. Looking at the picture in front of me I thought of the old saying – a picture is worth a thousand words. Well… with a little twist.
While linear search engines usually list the results by relevancy, implying that results on the first page are more significant to our search query than those listed on the tenth page, visual search engines synthesize information and provides us with a bigger picture of our search and a better sense of where the information fits in the context of a variety of results.
I would like to note that a visual search engine is not a search engine per se, but an application that is running on a certain search engine, using its database as its index.
Why the need for visual search?
When conducting complex searches, it is worth considering using visual search engines. These engines post-process the results, presenting and organizing them into categories, thus allowing us to deal with a much smaller amount of data.
Reviewing information in a visual format has scientific grounds - researchers found that humans have an inborn trait of visually perceiving information. People give a metaphoric meaning to spatial organization almost immediately.
For example, a search in Quintura returns a tag cloud, while the cloud contains the original search terms surrounded by related tags. Due to this trait we know that the closer the tags are to the search terms, the more relevant they are deemed.
 
Why use?
 We get some sort of overview of our search query. The results are presented in a much more meaningful manner enabling us to identify categories, patterns and dominant terms.
 Continuous reformulation and refinement of the search query. We can quickly discover different aspects or emphasis that lead to more focused searches. The keywords to update the search are already present in front of our eyes; we just have to click on the relevant term to continue and focus the search.
 Visual search engines make searching a dynamic and fun experience.
Why not use?

 We can come across perceptual overload when presented with a so many results simultaneously presented in the visual map.
 It may take some time to learn how to operate these search engines and understand what the graphical images represent in the visual map.
 The visual tools are still at their developmental stage, and can't compete with the large search engines and indexes, and it's still hard to get optimal results when inserting a lot of search words.
When to use?

 If you're trying to brainstorm for additional keywords to move forward your search, this isn't a
 bad place to experiment.
 If you're not familiar enough with the search subject, using visual search engines helps you to get an overview and a better understanding of what kind of information you are facing.
 It might help you think of ways to make you search more specific. If you're stuck with a query using a different search engine and want to refine your approach, using a visual search engine could help reorient your thinking a little.
After introducing visual search engines in general, I would like to provide a brief profile of each visual search engine:

Quintura
www.quintura.com
Quintura makes use of Yahoo’s index and displays on the left hand side of the window a tag cloud, consisting of your search term and related terms. By clicking the related terms, you can manipulate the context of your search, and the visual map changes accordingly. I usually use Quintura when I want to tackle one of my projects from another angle or when brainstorming for additional terms for my search.

KartOO
www.kartoo.com
KartOO is a visual meta-search engine, which gathers the results from all search engines, compiles them and represents them in an interactive map. Kartoo launched a few months ago a great new beta product – kartooVisu (beta.kvisu.com). After inserting your search terms, you will see on your right a green map – a very visual version of a tag cloud. Mousing over the "stepping stones" instantly adjusts the results.
Many times I start my search for information with KartooVisu since it is a very visual tool, and it enables me to just get a bigger picture of what info there is on the issue at hand.

Grokker
www.grokker.com
Grokker uses Yahoo's database as its index and clusters the results into categories represented as circles. Within each circle, individual web page results are represented as squares. Mousing over a square box pops-up a window providing you with details about that page. Notice that you have to switch to Map View.
The big plus of Grokker is that it displays on a single page up to 250 results, more than the 100 maximum you can get from Yahoo. Since these results are grouped in topics, rather than presented in a linear list, you may see results that you might otherwise miss. 

 Summary
In the emerging visual search market, visual search engines should be more than colorful interfaces to gain a real foothold alongside Google, Yahoo, and the like. They should serve as an entry panel, providing us with an overview of what information is available if we keep on with our search query. So, though in the near future visual search engines won't replace the principal traditional search engines, they are worth combining into your search strategy.

 
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