One of the recurring objections to exploratory search is that it can’t work for the web. For example, some folks at Microsoft Research presented a poster at HCIR ’08 explaining what they see as daunting challenges to implement faceted search for the web. I’ve often plugged Duck Duck Go as an successful example of exploratory search for the web, though it does not go as far as to offer faceted search.
Neither does Kosmix, but I’m impressed nonetheless. Kosmix has been around for a few years, and Ken Ellis has blogged about it a fair amount at NP-Harder. But, perhaps because of a underwhelming first impression, I forgot about it. Today, I was reminded by a New York Times article entitled “Just Don’t Compare Kosmix to Google“. Intrigued, I decided to give Kosmix another whirl.
Here are some of the searches I tried (yes, of course I start with vanity searches):
Verdict: I’m impressed. When there’s a Wikpedia entry, it piggy-backs on it, but most of those queries are far enough into the “long tail” to have their own Wikipedia entries. I slightly prefer how Duck Duck Go handles ambiguity (e.g., compare a query for sigir on Kosmix vs. Duck Duck Go), but I have to say that. on the whole, Kosmix is delivering on its promise of offering exploratory search for the web, and the functionality is the richest I’ve seen so far.
My only complaint is that it returns a lot of content for every query. I’d prefer a more progressive experience that returns a bit less initially but simply shows me the directions for further exploration–perhaps even including them in the initially returned page, but tucked away for a cleaner presentation. And of course I wonder how well it will work for the research tasks that most demand exploratory search. There’s still a lot of work to do.