This edition of Netspeak takes a quick look at some of the new entrants in the realm of information retrieval, a highly explosive segment of cyberspace.

Qwiki

Whenever we come across an unfamiliar theme or topic or historical event or something similar, the common recourse is an encyclopaedia.

However, the current encyclopaedia content has one serious shortcoming, that is its text-based content. Generally, the potential of the current graphics/multi-media technology is not exploited that much. There cannot be any dispute on the significance of presenting content using audio/video tools.

For instance, while describing how kidney functions, instead of simply explaining the process using just text content, if we can present the video clipping of the internals of kidney and other organs with necessary voice-over, it would help the user internalise the concept faster. The new service Qwiki (http://www.qwiki.com/) seems to be a product serving this need rather elegantly.

The main distinction of Qwiki when compared with other information retrieval tools is its lively interactive experience. For instance, if you seek for information about a reasonably known personality, it will provide you a brief bio-sketch of that person with a balanced mix of text, image and video content with voice-over.

Similarly this service could come in handy in gauging the main attractions of a prospective place of visit. In response to your query, the system culls information -- text, image video etc -- pertaining to the subject and generates a Qwiki on the fly. The service offers content on a variety of topics -- people, subjects, historical events and cities. Though the service is in just alpha, you will be surprised at the kind of content that comes from it.

DuckDuckGo

Despite the existence of popular search engines, several new alternatives emerge regularly (of course, many of them slide into the oblivion too). One such alternative search engine, gaining popularity (especially among the savvy Net crowd), is DuckDuckGo.

In response to a query, search engines like Google simply display the pages that contain the keyword. However, while delivering search results these search services generally do not consider the varied connotation of the word.

For instance, if you enter the word ‘virus' you may find web pages discussing both computer viruses and clinical viruses. Of course, for a person seeking information on computer viruses, this could present many frustrating moments.

One solution to avoid such frustrations is to be more careful while entering the keyword (for instance, here enter ‘computer-virus' instead of just virus). But this may not be feasible always as the user may not be aware of all the possible connotations of the word/phrase.

Ideal solution to such word-ambiguities is to make the search engine force the user to correct the word before embarking on the search process. Perhaps it can warn the user about the different meanings of the word and offer the user a range of alternatives.

Such a search service is no more a wishful thinking! DuckDuckGo (http://duckduckgo.com/), the fast growing search service, does this pretty well. For instance, if you type the word, ‘iceberg', before starting the search it offers you different meanings of ‘iceberg' in different contexts. From the displayed alternatives, you can choose the one that suits your need. Of course, this is just one of the many advantages of this simple but innovative search engine.

Spam-free and reasonably meaningful links in the search output is an important aspect of this service.

Besides offering appropriate results in a clean, easy-to-read, uncluttered interface, the service helps to navigate the output effortlessly.

As soon as one reaches the end of the first set of results, the service automatically loads the next set — no ‘Next' button clicking and all that.

Another notable aspect of this service is its ‘!Bang‘ option that enables focussed searches with ease. For instance, if you wish to narrow your search to Twitter database, invoke the search with the prefix ‘!twitter' (like ‘!twitter spectrum scam'). Twitter aside, DuckDuckGo's ‘!Bang' feature lets you search hundreds of other sites directly (http://duckduckgo.com/bang.html).

Yet another awesome feature of the service is the facility called ‘zero-click info'.

With each search, just above the results, the service presents an answer box (zero-click Info) that contains some explanation/description/information (culled from genuine sources like Wikipedia) on the subject or theme being queried.

Instead of searching all over the Web, search within topic-specific sites may yield better search output. Blekko (http://blekko.com/) is one such service worth a look in this context.

Besides offering several built-in topic-specific site lists (called ‘slashtags'), Blekko lets you create own lists too. To search on a specific list (say ‘science'), just add the relevant ‘slashtag' at the end of the keyword (example: global warming /science).

An on-line book on Net fundamentals

Net is fast becoming an essential ingredient of modern way of life. Though you can access the Web from the comfort of your home, web journey without caution could land you in deep trouble. A reasonably good knowledge on different Web technologies would certainly help you navigate the Web with lesser hiccups. This context makes the free on-line book “20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the web” rather significant.

This free book from ‘Google Chrome' team lucidly explains topics such as ‘What is Internet', ‘Cloud Computing” “HTML/HTML5”, “Browser cookies”, ‘IP address and DNS” and so on. So, if you wish to be an informed netizen, jump over to: http://www.20thingsilearned.com/.

Mdownloader

We are familiar with several free file-hosting services (such as Rapidshare) in which one can find lots of valuable resources. However, downloading from those resources in the usual manner is a painful process, as we have to go through several mundane steps each time we download. One solution to circumvent this issue is to use a download tool that can automate this process. We have introduced a couple of tools in the past (like ‘Mpony'). In this regard you may try out Mdownloader (http://mdownloader.codeplex.com/), yet another download program, recently stumbled on by NetSpeak. Mdownloader lets you download files from a plethora of services such as Rapidshare, Megaupload, Easyshare, filefactory and so on.

The author can be contacted at: jmurali@gmail.com

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