His unsolicited first response?
I've described and demoed Wowd to others since this little test, and literally received the same reaction. Wowd's basic ranking premise relies more on its community (currently only a few hundred people in beta) to signal which pages should be triggered in real time, at the keyword level. An app is downloaded that executes through a browser-like a regular Web site, and the searcher becomes part of a P2P cloud that is something like a real-time mind meld for what people are reading on the Web "right now." No voting is required, as pages are ranked based on community views in real time, along with textual analysis of the page, among other factors. Twitter is also used as a signal for ranking content, not as the source result (it seems the major engines haven't clued-in that this is one of the real true search values of Twitter -- maybe they're working on it). The end experience is that relevant results can pop up in seconds or minutes at the keyword level, at a pace that rivals Twitter in terms of real-time speed.
Now about that 'wow' factor. With so many differences in approach from other "traditional" real-time search offerings, step back and try to picture the blue links of a search engine results page for a moment. With Wowd, you can search for a term by popularity (most popular over time), or by freshness -- seeing the most popular content in real time, right now. Because Wowd is processing in minutes or seconds, results begin ranking and shifting on the "page" in real time, based on user activity. And because Wowd is a browser app and does not deliver pages, your results also move up and down in real time on the results list. While Twitter search shows keyword-triggered results in reverse-chronological order, Wowd also keeps the most relevant result at #1, but other listings -- including #1 -- might shift before your eyes. The recent rumblings that Google is updating its results pages to a rich application framework gives pause to what it has in store as well.
Wowd CEO Mark Drummond also told me that the company isn't ditching its results set just because it falls out of a certain time frame (note: Stephanie Sarka from Wowd was one of my co-panelists on the real-time panel at OMMA Global New York a couple of weeks ago). In fact, that data is still useful for what Drummond calls a "sliding window" approach to viewing documents and assets over time. He also says that allowing the community to build the index helps shed some of the baggage that can clutter real-time results with too many historical results.
So will enough people use Wowd to make it useful against a broad term set, in light of potential privacy concerns? Wowd has its own privacy pledge, and claims it will not share any data from a user's local system. Though the engine has not been rolled out yet, some people might suggest that privacy concerns around sharing live Web history could be a hindrance to adoption of this type of approach. But I don't think this is a big enough obstacle in keeping users from opting-in. A substantially sized community (let's say 50,000-plus users) could still cover a large keyword base for a wide variety of current real-time terms. Theoretically, a community driving relevant and useful results could also be used as a proxy for the non-community, non-opt-in searcher (privacy issue solved for the non-opt-in audience), and still be viable as a mainstream engine, provided that the quality of results are maintained from both a recency and relevancy standpoint. Off the top of my head, I can think of many major online services that pull more user data than Wowd, and still have millions of users.
One other challenge may be in the way social results often become a reflection of the community that drives them, like a Digg, or Sphinn. If Wowd wants to be mainstream, a skewed results set could be a major challenge, and more of a social
management issue than a search issue.
The current user base limits the broad scope of keywords and results available, so if you are testing it early on, you will probably come up short on results unless you search on a very broad term. It will be interesting to watch how this engine morphs as more users come on, and also what types of new features are needed for this new approach to search.
For the most part, the real wow factor for me is not just about what Wowd is right now, but also what it could become.
If you would like to test out Wowd for yourself, visit this URL extended to MediaPost readers for a special preview before the public launch next week.
Use this invitation key: jb10nqaz78w86g