Could a Newly Launched Metaphorical Search Engine Really Work?

When I first heard of Yossarian Lives, a website that bills itself as the metaphorical search engine, I thought "no way!" Good metaphors are inherently artistic and depend on a nuanced understanding of related topics, both very human qualities. Indeed, when I had a chance to fool around with the alpha version of Yossarian Lives it seemed to function as a glorified "random" button on your average stock photo library. 


My conclusion was perhaps premature. This summer Yossarian Lives came out of beta testing and launched with a new polished interface:

The new website is fun to play around with, it's certainly got the potential to be helpful to writers and artists for the purposes of providing a touch of inspiration when faced with a brick wall. Below, for example, was the top Yossarian Lives search result when I typed in "brick wall" myself.

The text is mine - which is another nice touch. When Yossarian Lives discovers two related ideas, you can provide your own off-the-cuff explanation for the relationship, adding to the data Yossarian Lives has to play with. Moreover, you see a completely different set of results each time you hit search. For example, another click of the mouse brought me the following images:

The website allows you to control the level of distance between the search term and results. Edging the slider up a notch to "distant lateral", for instance, returns results that are somewhat more haphazard:

With another crank of the lever to the level of "Serendipitous," we begin to see a beautifully obscure collection of imagery. Feel free to leave your hypothesis for the relationship between a brick wall and the search results below in the comments:

For the purposes of comparison, below is the Google Image Search result for the same search term. If I were searching online for inspiration for another metaphor to describe the feeling of hitting a brick wall, I know which website I'd prefer.

Another similar site to launch this summer is Seenapse, which aims to help people make mental associations that could lead to insight. Seenapse plays more heavily on the role of the user to create connections. It is essentially a massive word association game with hyperlinks. When users link pairs of ideas, they must explain the connection and add a hyperlink. When I searched for "brick wall" on Seenapse, it returned the following results:

In one case above, the search returned OK Go's song "The Writing's On The Wall," which somebody linked to a puzzle game called Echochrome due to its use of perspective to create optical illusions. Like with Yossarian Lives, we are quickly a very long way away from the idea of a brick wall.

Interestingly, the computer generated results from Yossarian Lives seem far more useful than the human generated results obtained from Seenapse. Yet as shown by my search for "brick wall," the computer-generated results alone are not yet particularly useful without some human input. They may provide a useful springboard, however. Do you think these applications have the potential to be useful? Why not have a go yourself and let me know in the comments.

Via Smithsonian & Fastcompany

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Image Credit: Yossarian Lives, Seenapse

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