Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ujiko: "Evolving Search Internet Player"

I had to critique a search engine for my Information Retrieval Class. Ujiko is built as a layer upon the Yahoo! search egine. It calls itself an "evolving search internet player" adding more functionality as the user gains expertise. It has an interface like a video game. Here is part of my review:

I came up with five categories to review Ujiko’s interface, based on what we discussed in class, and what Ujiko claims to offer: analytic search capability, search navigation, interactive browsing, visualization of the information space, and “evolutionary” capability. I have rated these on a scale of one to ten (one being poor, ten being excellent), and provided a summary of the features that provide the basis for my critique.

Analytic Search Capability


Search Navigation


Interactive Browsing


Visualization of the Information Space


“Evolutionary” Capability


Analytic Search Capability: simply put, Ujiko provides none. There are no “advanced search” options except for the capability to support a Boolean query, and this is not even mentioned on the help page. To Ujiko’s credit, analytic capability is not its ultimate goal.

Search Navigation: Ujiko offers several features to keep the user from “getting lost” during their search, and to help organize search results. There are three buttons to keep track of search history: “last queries,” “last answered queries”, and “last pages visited.” I found these to be very helpful in avoiding duplicate searches while adjusting my queries. Ujiko also provides five folders to file results by your own categories, and look at later as a set.

Interactive Browsing: There are three key features that I consider to be the highlight of Ujiko’s interface, and provide the opportunity for fast relevance judgments. First, when one mouses over the URLs provided, Ujiko provides “thumbshots” (provided by of the web pages with a summary underneath. This is a quick way to determine whether a site warrants further investigation without clicking on it. Second, one can rank each site by clicking on a heart icon (giving it relevance points) or a trash icon, which will filter it out of the results. If you run a previous query, the results you picked as relevant will appear at the top of the list. Third, Ujiko provides additional query suggestions in the middle of the page (pulled from the pages’ metadata) and allows you to pose a new query with the additional key words by clicking on them. These three features make sorting and filtering a large number of results very efficient.

Visualization of the Information Space: Ujiko’s visual layout is fun and easy to maneuver. Providing results in two columns around a circle prevents scrolling, which is a plus. The use of color-coded bars to associate query terms with individual results is also effective, although it is a very limited way of showing the relationships between results. The major weakness of the layout is that it is framed in an oval, which eliminates substatial screen “real estate.” One of the limits of information retrieval is our lack of screen space, and Ujiko’s interface makes it even smaller.

“Evolutionary Capability:” Ujiko promotes itself as an engine which “grows” with the user’s expertise. The more you use it, the more “advanced” options it provides. This is complete nonsense, and my major problem with this search engine. It awards points for every site visited, and awards additional capabilities by moving you to a new "level" every ten points. While novel at first (and somewhat addictive, I admit) it becomes increasingly frustrating. The first five levels provide you with the features that I have mentioned in this review: buttons to view previous search history, folders to sort results, etc. But these features could hardly be considered to provide “advanced” search capability; a novice user could easily manage these features before they have visited fifty pages. As I advanced through the levels, I was increasingly disappointed by the features added. At level eleven (after one hundred ten sited were visited) the newest feature was a button linked to Wikipedia (which it simply opens in a new browser window). Needless to say, the concept of Ujiko being “evolutionary” is hype intended to keep the user interested in the tool.

Overall, Ujiko is an interesting interface, and a highly interactive search engine. Will I use it in the future? Probably not. But the "video game" metaphor is worth investigating. I would like to use this interface with a joystick rather than a mouse. Given the propensity for video-game playing today, maybe this will be the way we search for information in the future.

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