Test-driving Quintura Visual Search Navigation

Building on the rich search user-interface crowd that now includes Yahoo Mindset, ChaCha, and Become, Russian search engine Quintura unveiled its new, visually based search interface on Monday. Quintura is a "visual find engine" that uses tag clouds and a rich interface to dynamically display and refine results. The interface includes a query box at the top of the page, a tag cloud on the left side of the screen, and a rich results display on the right hand side of the page.

The results are currently provided by Yahoo, but company co-founder Yakov Sadchikov told me that Quintura "can work as a visual navigation layer on top of any search engine." He also said that they have started crawling the Web to create their own index.

Here's how it works: when a query is entered, a tag cloud with closely related terms appears to the left. Searchers can review the results page, or refine results from the tag cloud by keeping their cursor hovering over a particular word or phrase.



Since the results are provided by Yahoo, I ran a side-by-side comparison between Yahoo and Quintura to determine how the search experience differed between the two engines. I used both the broad query "bass", and the highly refined query, "Lake Fork" + record + "largemouth bass" to test two different extremes. The first results for "bass" in Yahoo yielded a not-so broad array of bass-related terms, sticking mainly to music (six results), shoes (three), and fishing (one). There was no sign of results for "ale" or "bass hall" in the bunch. This Yahoo set didn't present a wide assortment of interesting fishing choices, which underscored the fact that it's really up to the searcher to get creative in filtering with standard query logic when going beyond broad terms.

Upon entering the query "bass" at Quintura, I found that the same Yahoo results set appeared, but a tag cloud appeared to my left. I hovered first over the term "shoes" and then clicked to the right of the word to subtract all of the results from the page ("-shoes"). I hovered over the term "fishing," and a new cloud expanded around the term as the results set changed in the rich interface. I then hovered over another term, and a new cloud appeared with a new set of refined results.

Clicking is not a requirement to refine results pages, and in some ways it makes clicking from SERP to SERP seem archaic, even though this is the standard for all major engines. Overall, hovering greatly increases the speed of refining a query, provided that the tag cloud presents relevant results. In my case, I quickly found a wide variety of generally interesting pages, much quicker than if had I tried to dream up these related words and phrases on my own.

I had higher expectations for the more specific phrase, "Lake Fork" + record + "largemouth bass." The Top 10 results in Yahoo yielded only two relevant references for the query, which came after a few minutes of trying to wrangle and navigate approximately eight different Web sites. I eventually found an authoritative reference on the Texas Parks and Wildlife site, though I was hoping to find a picture with a detailed account of the catch (for those keeping score, the record Lake Fork largemouth bass was 18.18 lbs, caught in 1992).

I entered the same detailed query in Quintura and found the same results. While the tag cloud terms did not seem appealing at first, the hovered results were more refined, but still relevant to my general interest. While few truly relevant results were returned in the Yahoo SERP, I have to admit I was more engaged with scanning the Quintura results set as I navigated quickly via tag cloud.

As a final check, I entered the same long-tail query into Google, and it provided further proof that this was a challenging search.

Overall, Quintura provided the most value in its speed of refining results. I would love to be able to bolt this interface on to other search engines, which is exactly what Sadchikov said it is designed to do.

Even if Yahoo isn't your main engine, Quintura is worth a test drive, especially if you tend to be visually inclined. At the very least you may find that it is a fun and different way to search.

I can't wait until the major engines make our search lives easier by adding rich interface options to the standard interface, and help us all search smarter and faster. Forget personalization - give me a rich toolbox to slice and dice results quickly, as needed. While MSN, Google, and Yahoo all rely on one simple box, the current interfaces just aren't going to cut it into the future, especially as searchers become more sophisticated. Playing around with Mindset (Yahoo), ChaCha and Quintura gave me clear proof of the potential for improvements in speed and alternate forms of navigation. They may not be the "be all, end all" of search engines, but user interface options and rich tools are nice.

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