We don’t know about you, but we’re a little tired of conventional web searches. If you want to search anything (say Egypt), Google obediently proffers a number of sites starting with Wikipedia. The Wikipedia entry is usually a tad too detailed unless you’re writing a paper on the subject. Ideally, there would be one consolidated place for information – text, pictures, videos, news – instead of hundreds of links in each channel. Come to think of it, when we’re searching for Singapore we’d really like the computer to just tell us about the country – where it is, it’s history, politics, culture, news, preferably with some pictures and videos to help make the experience more interesting. After all, that’s how it happens in futuristic movies: the computer shows you a screen as it speaks, zooming in and out of pictures, statistics, and videos, presenting everything you need to know in one quick media bite.
Well, Qwiki is a Palo Alto based startup that promises to give you just that kind of information experience. Before you read any further, just check out this link (in which we asked Qwiki to search for the Beatles):
Pretty cool, huh? And lest you have any doubt, that’s a computer generated sultry female voice. By the way, you can click on any piece of information, like a video snippet, and it will take you to the original source. It even takes recommendation on how to improve the experience and information. Here is the most incredible part: everything you hear and see is curated and generated by machines: in other hands, no human was involved in creating a perfect short and interactive experience for you.
Ok, so it has some problems. The information is a bit out-date. The Qwiki on Egypt, for example, had no mention of the demonstrations taking place across Egypt today, for instance. But the company is in Beta testing and one can very well imagine that its algorithm will one day be able to scour the news and provide you the latest information on your search item.
Founded by Doug Imbruce and web pioneer Dr. Louis Monier (founder of the search platform AltaVisa), Qwiki has generated a great deal of buzz in Silicon Valley. Many observers are touting it as the next Big Thing in search. The company reported that it received almost 125,000 requests to be part of their alpha test. Last week, investors including Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin led an $8 million Series A round investment in the firm. Immediately afterwards, Qwiki released its beta version which is open for everyone to join.
The company describes a qwiki as “a short, interactive story: a drastically improved information experience provided via interactive video. Unlike traditional rich media content, all Qwikis are created on the fly from web sources (without any human intervention).”
The company says it wants to improve the way people experience information, and intends to "deliver information in a format that's quintessentially human -- via storytelling instead of search.” Today the site has over 3 million Qwikis describing almost all the topics on Wikipedia with relevant data imported from linked sources. The company predicts that one day there will be a Qwiki for every topic imaginable, eg. a person, historical event or a restaurant. You can embed your personal Qwiki anywhere on the Web including your website. it sure beats a boring business card. Check out Angelina Jolie’s Qwiki. There's even a (short and slightly outdated) Qwiki on Parag!
If you have time, do see this great demo by Imbruce and Monier at TechCrunch last year:
Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.