The latest project from Dave Pell, creator of Rollyo (http://rollyo.com/), and designer Bryan Bell is Addict-o-matic (http://addictomatic.com/). This search engine pulls from the "best live sites on the web for the latest news, blog posts, videos and images." Some of these live sites include major blogging houses (WordPress, Bloglines, and Twitter) and blog search engines, video and vlogging sites (YouTube and Truveo), and all the likely suspects for major folksonomic searching (Digg, Technorati, and even Flickr, plus 15 other sites and engines).
Addict-o-matic is similar to such services as Sphere and Newser in that it pulls in stories from a wide variety of sources (though less strictly news-oriented than Newser’s sources) and provides Ajax-powered pop-up content boxes for previewing each item. When asked about Addict-o-matic’s similarities to Sphere, Pell said "Addict-o-matic is actually quite different from Sphere. … Addict-o-matic is a more of a metasearch engine that provides results for a particular search term across many types of popular search engines, including blogs, videos, news, images and user participation news aggregators. Sphere could ultimately be a source that is featured on Addict-o-matic."
Addict-o-matic does not return news results in a strictly "infosthetic" or jazzed-up graphical interface, like Silobreaker or the infamous Newsmap visualization of Google News does. Addict-o-matic touts its ability to return relevant results, whether the information is in video, text, or audio format, and it presents the results in a simple and ordered way—no dramatic reimagining of text as an image here—just a box with a heading and the stories below. There are three main elements to Addict-o-matic: the free search for any term in the 22 sources (like "hexayurt" shown at http://addictomatic.com/topic/hexayurt); the Featured Search pages which run searches on preset terms (like "Myanmar" or "Scarlett Johansson"); and the NewsFix Pages with canned thematic searches (like "Election 2008").
This new service certainly represents another clear step toward "universal search." It also makes clear the fact that universal search innovation is developing most vigorously in halls outside the Google campus. When asked about Addict-o-matic-as-universal-search, Pell did not directly compare his project to Google. He said that the goal "is to bring back results from as wide a variety of sources and media as possible." For our money, that means universal search—and a move into territory that the likes of Google hasn’t yet decisively staked out.
Addict-o-matic is customizable, to an extent, through the dashboard feature. Users can drag and drop boxes to put favorites on top, making results from the 22 available sources customizable to suit user needs. Pell said, "If I am searching for Obama, I might want to focus on news and videos from mainstream sources and top blogs only. If I am performing an ego search, I want to know anytime any site mentions my brand, and I can adjust the results dashboard accordingly."
Addict-o-matic is entirely dependent on the quality of the source search engines and feeds for the quality of its results. Pell said, "Addict-o-matic is a mashup, so we definitely rely on the quality of results served up by the engines we include. There are times when a certain engine performs better than others, depending on the query." Pell suggested the main use of this tool may be more abstract. It may, in fact, be best used in designing better search strategies. "The power of Addict-o-matic is that you can get a cross section of results from across the board and then hone in on the sources that give you the most of what you’re after," said Pell. As a metasearch, then, users get a very wide-angle view of the search results, and it’s up to them to know how to "hone in on the sources" from there.
There is a lineage and connection at work here. Addict-o-matic has, in a way, evolved from Rollyo. The strength of Rollyo lies in its openness to user-prescribed source searching. Pell said there are important differences between his current project and Rollyo, but that Addict-o-matic was at first imagined as a new part of Rollyo. The project took on its own life, though, and he sees them now as separate but complimentary tools: "Rollyo is about narrowing a query to a list of sources, and Addict-o-matic is all about creating a dashboard based on a word or phrase, but getting stuff from everywhere."
Pell said that the goal of Addict-o-matic "is to bring back results from as wide a variety of sources and media as possible." With only 22 possible sources for news at the moment, however, the variety is clearly not yet as wide as it might be. To further "enable addiction," Addict-o-matic makes a web browser search add-on available for Internet Explorer 7 and Mozilla Firefox, with more tools promised as on their way. And more Web 2.0 adaptability is in the works: "We are going to let people add something very custom and very cool to their page and it will further bridge the gap between Rollyo and Addict-o-matic." Pell is also at work brainstorming widgets for the project.
The design is slick, with a catchy little smirking coffee-robot inviting you to come in and "inhale the web." Pell said that both the technical and aesthetic elements of design were important in planning the project. "I always think of design first. Ultimately, a mashup like this is all about putting a good, new UI on an old problem." Pell said he mocks up the wireframes that will drive the user’s experience of the site before the coding begins. "And then once the basics [were] in place, I worked with Bryan [Bell] to create a great visual experience. From that point, there is always some give and take."
These, indeed, are not just aesthetic considerations. "The big challenge for Addict-o-matic is to somehow take results from many, many sources and still make the site usable and clear," said Pell. The team works with high contrasts and simple colors to improve the usability of the search results. "Every design decision we made was around two things: getting across what the site is and does and making the search results page something pleasant and inviting instead of overwhelming."
And it works. For a mashup site that could have been visually too busy to make information easily accessible (like Newser and Silobreaker), Addict-o-matic comes across as neat and tidy. I had to ask if there were any hidden goodies tucked away somewhere in the site, waiting to lure in and surprise the unsuspecting and addicted user. Pell promised to "work on some Easter eggs."