Zakta launched a new collaborative search site, SearchTeam.com, on July 12. Proposing to “search the web together with people you trust,” SearchTeam lets groups of searchers save results, add notes, modify results, “like” specific hits, and share results with others. Rather than requiring that the entire team (or group of collaborators) be online at the same time, SearchTeam is asynchronous, letting each team member save results, annotate them, and even upload files to share with others. As described in the SearchTeam FAQ, searchers can create a SearchSpace for gathering and organizing search results for each topic. “You can find and save only what you want while you are searching and throw away what you don't want or find irrelevant. You can automatically organize what you save, into folders of your choosing.”
The overwhelming number of accounts, log in names, email addresses, and associated passwords is one difficulty with many collaborative and social sites. SearchTeam requires an account, but as proclaimed in the FAQ, “we hate creating new accounts too.” So, SearchTeam accepts logins from other services. Have an account on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Yahoo!, or Twitter? Use those credentials to login without creating another account unique to SearchTeam. While logging in with another social service permits a user to create connections with friends or followers from that network, Sundar Kadayam, founder and CEO of Zakta (and co-founder of Intelliseek back in 1997), emphasizes that “it does not compromise privacy.” For example, while Facebook Connect could allow SearchTeam to integrate information to the Facebook news feed, SearchTeam chose not to allow that integration.
With all the constant changes in web search, collaborative searching remains problematic. Co-browsing applications have various difficulties. Microsoft introduced SearchTogether, an Internet Explorer Plug-in, a few years ago (see the June 2008 NewsBreak). However, adoption of that synchronous searching tool is greatly limited by its availability for only one browser (Internet Explorer), one search engine (Bing), and the contact management within Live Messenger. Beyond the technical requirements, synchronous searching depends on collaborators being online at the same time.
Recognizing differences in schedules, most of SearchTeam’s collaborative features do not require a simultaneous online presence. Start typing a query into the initial search box and a second box appears to name the SearchSpace for saving and organizing results. Enter a name and a third option appears to Invite Friends to Search Together. So, from the beginning, a searcher can enter a query, name the SearchSpace for future reference, and invite collaborators. A SearchSpace can organize results in separate folders. Each entry in the folder gives options for any team member to “like,” edit (including the title, URL, extract, and adding an image), comment, move, or delete. The folder also has buttons for manually adding a link, post, or file.
Team Chat is the one synchronous aspect of SearchTeam. When two collaborators are logged in at the same time, there is a Team Chat button at the bottom of the list of “Teammates” that brings up a chat window for textual communication. It does not yet support images but will make a full URL (http:// must be included) into a link.
Previous searches by any team member from which at least one result has been saved are listed in a drop-down menu under a “previous searches” link to the right of the search box. However, any hits that were added to a folder no longer show in the results and only appear in the associated folder or on the main SearchSpace page.
Databases & Pricing
Beyond just web pages, SearchTeam searches databases of videos, images, books, articles, Wikipedia, and a special collection of educational resources. The database limits are available at the top of the search results page in tabs. The web, video, and image databases are using the Yahoo! Search BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service) database. The “Reference” tab digs into SearchTeam’s own index of Wikipedia, and “Books and Articles” come from the Amazon database. According to Kadayam, “We plan to enhance the collection of sources over time” with some of the more “obvious ones that are missing right now” such as products, news, and realtime databases. The additional databases may be available as early as this fall.
SearchTeam is free to use, and it is intended to remain that way. However, there eventually may be some premium features for a fee, such as the ability to upload files larger than 10MB and customization of search sources. Zakta is investigating a number of revenue streams including licensing the platform. Kadayam hopes to announce some partners by the end of the year. With the ability to customize sources, could SearchTeam be used in a library environment as a collaborative discovery engine? Kadayam expresses interest and says they “are actually working with one of our partners right now . . . with a dozen sources.”
Semantic Topic Network
On the SearchTeam results page under the search box is an extensive collection of suggested search terminology. Even for those not interested in the collaborative features of SearchTeam, take a look at these search suggestions. Deriving from a semantic topic network developed by the company and mined from Wikipedia, Kadayam says that they “dropped it into the search experience to enhance it” with four million topics used to create the suggestions to “give guidance to that research.” Instead of just a couple suggestions, for many searches SearchTeam has a dozen or more suggestions in categories of “Did you mean?,” Subtopics, Related, and even matches from the SearchSpace folders. The semantic topic network includes about 100 entity types with classifiers (such as places, politicians, drugs, and diseases) and the suggestions are even more targeted for entity matches.
SearchTeam gives examples of personal, academic, and business uses for collaborative searching such as the following:
- Planning a vacation with friends, a reunion, or a wedding
- Researching a medical condition
- Research for a group paper or project
- Research market trends, prospects, or competitors with colleagues
Phil Bradley, in reviewing SearchTeam when in private beta, blogs that “I can't see much advantage in this with reference to shared bookmarks, wiki and so on.” On the other hand, Kimberly Heaton blogs positively about the potential for using SearchTeam for genealogical research.
However, the ease of logging in, the simple ways of creating SearchSpaces and folders, and the semantic topic network make SearchTeam worth considering for any group search function, such as a class projects, family trip planning, business team research, and association groups.