I have been testing the beta version of a new search site that delivers results visually, showing pages rather than descriptions of pages. Called Searchme, it is by no means the first search engine to include images of matching Web pages within search results, but I have never seen one do it so smoothly and seamlessly. The best comparison is to the way an iPod touch or iTunes displays album covers in what Apple calls Cover Flow. In Searchme, the flow is similar, only it is showing Web pages, not CD covers.
Searchme is still in beta. As the company emphasizes, it is not yet ready for public release. Use is by invitation only — you can request an invitation at the site’s main page. The company also cautions that its index of Web pages is still relatively small — around one billion. And its indexing program is still growing, but getting smarter every day.
As soon as you begin to enter a search query, icons begin to appear under the search box representing topics by which you can narrow your search. As I type “antonin scalia,” for example, icons appear for U.S. government, courts, politicians, U.S. news and history. I can click and arrow to see even more. I can select one of these icons or ignore them and enter the search. After I enter the search, the icons remain on the search page, so I can use them to narrow my search at any time.
The default results page has no text, just the flow of pages matching my query, with the top result centered in the screen and the others lined up to the right waiting to take center stage. As I flow through them — either by clicking or using the scroll bar — the pages flow smoothly across the screen. If I hover over the centered page, an information box pops up with more information about it. If I click on the page image, I go to the actual page. A quick click on the arrow at the bottom of the page, and now the screen is divided horizontally, with the page images at the top and the page descriptions more typical of other search engines at the bottom.
I have found other search engines that include page images to be clumsy, with the images sometimes slow to load and appearing to be an afterthought to the textual description. With Searchme, the text takes a back seat to the images, which flow smoothly and appear clear.
More to the point, the delivery of search results through images rather than text (or images and text, if you prefer) is highly effective. We all know the expression that a picture is worth a thousand words. Here, seeing the pages that contain your search results helps you quickly measure their usefulness and relevance. Maybe that assumes some advance knowledge of the sources, and maybe visual search isn’t for everyone, but I am so far impressed with this new search engine and look forward to its further refinement.
(You can see two videos demonstrating Searchme at YouTube.)