Senior Editor Tekla Perry files this report from Demo 07, a premier hothouse of innovation.
There's something about the beginning of a year that makes you want to get better organized, to tackle that two-foot pile of papers on the corner of your desk that threatens to tip over. You don't much mind the fact that you're not quite as organized as you could be in May, or August, or December. But at the beginning of a new year, you are tempted to try something different, to take that pile apart and put it together in a way you hope will let you work more efficiently. Or at least look better.
Tekla S. Perry
Even though it's February, I'm still feeling that New Year's effect. So on this, the second day of Demo 07 in Palm Desert, Calif., companies that offered to clean up my messy Internet search results looked oh-so appealing.
TextDigger demonstrated its Digger software on general searches. Digger analyzes a search query to try to pin down your real meaning; if it can't decide between multiple meanings (pool, for example, could refer to a swimming pool, a betting pool, or pool table), it lets you pick from a list. It then adds synonyms or related words to your query, and reorders results generated by standard search engines according to its understanding of what you're looking for. For example, if you search for a hotel, you'll also get motels, inns, and hostels. However, hostels, since they are least hotel-like of the group, will be pushed down on the list, motels would be a little higher.
Me.dium (yes, that dot in the middle of the name is supposed to be there) structures search by analyzing who else is searching for similar information. A window on the left of the search screen shows you other Me.dium users clustered around related Web pages; you can conduct your own search or simply follow the crowd. I'm not sure this one would work for me, but the user interface idea seemed fresh. (It somewhat resembles Sugar, a brand-new user interface designed by the One Laptop per Child group to roll out to the developing world where the desktop metaphor has little relevance.)
Boorah (where do they get these names?) searches for opinions about restaurants, be those opinions found in official review sites or buried in blogs, and automatically categorizes the information—for example, by food, ambience, or price. It also generates numerical ratings for each restaurant.
The most amazing tool for organizing search data came from what was probably the smallest company at Demo, DesignIn, from Marblehead, Mass. DesignIn has a founder, Ramsay Hoguet, and some contract programmers in Russia. That's it. But their software, MyDesignIn, looks awesome.
MyDesignIn is intended for home remodelers, either working with an architect or interior designer, alone, or with help from friends. The user inputs the basic room dimensions, and features and DesignIn turns those into a blueprint. Then the user can browse around the Web to pick out cabinets, sinks, furniture, rugs, or just about anything he might want to put in that room, and drags all the options he is considering into a sidebar. When he drags a selected item from the sidebar into the room blueprint, DesignIn's software converts it to a CAD representation of the object. The user can then send the blueprint of the proposed design to someone else, and if that recipient wants detailed information about the different objects in the room, like brand, style, or price, she just mouses over the CAD object. Alternatively, the user can ask to see what choices other DesignIn users with similar room sizes and shapes made in their designs. I hope this company survives, because now that I've seen it, I don't want to go furniture shopping without it.