A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Start Your Decision Engines

Search engines meet social networks in Hunch.com , while Bing.com delivers fewer search results with higher relevance – welcome to decision engines.

Flickr creator Caterina Fake Monday launched Hunch.com, a search engine guiding users to their ideal sites and products for searches on business, travel, shopping and even life advice.

Type in a question like “Am I in the Friend Zone?” and Hunch will lead you through a series of questions about your personal relationships and to your answer.

Outside of being an exaggerated version of a Cosmopolitan quiz, Hunch offers quite a bit more analysis and learns about you the more you – and others – use it. The system blends social media advice and internet data to get users to answer other users’ questions as the system builds.

Fake sees Hunch as a useful tool that will grow into an enormous resource.

“It might take five years for Hunch to reach maturity,” she said, according to SearchEngineLand.com. “Right now, it’s like Wikipedia circa 2002. To me, what makes social software great is that it improves over time.”

Also giving traditional search giant Google a run for its money is Bing.com, marketed as a “decision engine” and launched late last month as an answer to overwhelming search results on traditional engines.

Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim reported in May that 42 percent of internet users “are constantly unsatisfied with our initial search results.”

“Search engines do a decent job of helping people navigate the Web and find information, but they don’t do a very good job of enabling people to use the information they find,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement.

Like Google, Bing aggregates all types of content on a particular search term, but organizes it in a more useful way. Type in “Rome” and you’ll get searches organized by the city’s history, weather, events, travel deals, etc.

While it remains to be seen how big an impact systems like Hunch and Bing will have on traditional internet searching, it’s clear that innovative technologies focused on quality over quantity and a way to utilize community intellect cannot be ignored.

2009: My Digital Resolution

The first Monday after the New Year brings many of us back to reality after a fleeting period of mental freedom (barring any drama with the in-laws, of course). This time of year many choose to reflect on the previous 52 weeks, and determine what kinds of lifestyle changes will make the next year (in our case, 2009) less lackluster. Instead of boring you with non-existent plans to visit the gym with increased frequency, or a false promise to cook at home more, I've decided to share my list of ways I would like — and have already begun — to change my internet habits.

Online Products Getting the Axe

  • Flickr. With more and more of my friends making use of Facebook's photo albums, I have been using Flickr less and less. While I realize there's still a place for the artsy photostream, Flickr, once a mainstay of my daily online repertoire, is largely absent from my browser's address bar.
  • Firefox. Nothing personal to Mozilla, and I still run it on my Ubuntu and FreeBSD boxes. But when it comes to my business-centered Windows machine, I have abandoned this once-touted browser champion for Google Chrome. Now out of beta, the UI is slick and it uses far less system resources than the now pudgy Firefox. Disclaimer: I am also a self-proclaimed Google fanboy.
  • Technorati. I still view Technorati via RSS, as their headlines are worth a look. However, I used to use this service mainly as a blog search tool, and Google Blog search has simply surpassed it.
  • Twitter. After Facebook implemented and revamped its status updates, Twitter doesn't quite have the same sheen it once had. In addition, most aggregate services implement with the Twitter platform if you really need to stay afloat on any crucial Tweets. Not to mention its non-impressive growth over the last few months.

Online Products I Use More, or Have Begun Using

Excluding the mainstays such as Gmail and Facebook, here are some products I've made some room for as we transition into 2009.

  • Google Reader. While I did not begin using this recently, the revamp of its design and new features have really set this reader further away from the pack than I had imagined.
  • FriendFeed. Upon launch, I was adamently opposed to FriendFeed. After some time to work out kinks and to catch on in popularity (and by nature, functionality), I have found some good news leads and websites through this service. I joined FriendFeed to show how pointless it was, and now it saves me time by aggregating all sorts of websites I'd rather not visit primarily.
  • Hulu. I only really watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and it's available on Hulu. As are all of the archived episodes of Arrested Development. I watch more Hulu than television by a long shot. Where else can I stream forgotten films of the 80's and 90's for free with (very) limited commercial interruption in 480p?
  • Truphone. I make a few calls internationally every now and then, and while Skype is great, without a truly mobile Skype phone available in the United States this service is truly discount calling on the go.

I'm excited to see the innovation that will come with 2009, and hopefully this list will expand itself with better offerings as the year progresses. What kinds of digital changes do you plan to make in the New Year?

Battle of the Voting Place Tools

In past election cycles, the Republicans and Democrats have developed their own custom applications to help citizens find out where they can go vote.  This year, Google did everyone a service by developing a gadget that lets everyone embed a gadget that lets site visitors find out where they can go vote.  I’ve embedded the gadget below.

The McCain campaign and RNC saw this as a great way to save time and money, and are using the gadget on their sites to help voters find out where to vote.

In a move we’ve come to expect from the well-funded Obama campaign, they chose to develop a robust, custom application instead of using Google’s free tool.  The Obama version is more feature rich than Google’s tool, including directions to your voting location, info on the laws in your state, links to external resources and the ability to to have the directions emailed to you.  You can see a screenshot of the Obama tool here.

Election Day web tools

Election Day is rapidly approaching. Many will have Tuesday off and the luxury of keeping score on TV from home. Others will keep tabs online. Whichever way we choose, we treat the event almost like an all-day football game (a very, very important football game), cheering or jeering as each precinct reports. If you’ll be using the net to track the results, news, or still need to make your mind up, here are some resources you’ll find useful:

CNN Election Center – Well designed, lot’s of information and clutter-free. My personal favorite.

USA Today – If it’s just the bottom line, raw news and state-by-state results you’re looking for, USA Today does the job quickly and efficiently.

Politweets – “When Twitter gets political.” 

YouTube Super Tuesday – Upload your political opinions, analysis, interviews, or campaign trail footage to YouTube, then use the interactive map to watch videos from voters, candidates, and news outlets.

Scholastic | Election 2008 – A great way to follow the election with your kids.

Google’s Map Mashups – A virtual hodgepodge of the candidates’ speeches, interviews, endorsements and appearances around the nation.

Pollster.com – The must-bookmark for all projection junkies.

Glassbooth.org – This quiz will help all you undecideds settle on a candidate.

Pimp Your Browser: First Look at Google Chrome

As if our web developers didn't already have enough standards-fudging and code-juggling to optimize websites for every conceivable end-user browser, Google launched the public release of Google Chrome today — and I was right in line to download it. The Installation .exe file was small (a little over 400 kb), only to connect to the internet and download the entire binary. I am writing this very post using the new browser, and here are some of my initial opinions on the new kid on the block.

Upon installation, I fell in love with its menu bar. I recently purchased an Eee PC 901, which has a maximum resolution of 1024×600 — so screen real estate is of particular interest to me. The menu/navigation is a minimalist's dream: tabs at the very top, address bar, drop-down menus from within the address bar. The extra 50 or so vertical pixels it saves on my screen is quite noticeable on this netbook when compared to Mozilla Firefox.

Each tab in Google Chrome is treated as a different process (at least in Windows XP) when I open up the task manager. I am not really sure what this does in terms of efficiency, but it is a different approach than Firefox (which I have been known to inflate to nearly a gigabyte through the over-use of tabs). If you have an opinion on this technical matter, please, let us know in the comments!

The Chrome's default start page is like the desktop version of iGoogle. It will apparently track the most visited sites, and display them in page previews for easy access. I am not convinced of this yet, but it could turn out to be a great addition to a streamlined product.

I fooled around a bit on Meebo, YouTube, Wikipedia, Gmail, Flickr, and some WordPress installations, all without encountering any glaring errors or compliancy issues.*

Since the blogs and forums I frequent will be all ablaze about this over the coming months, I thought I'd get my limited initial reaction to the product out there with the promise of a full review to come. Something to add? Drop it in the comments.

*Update: The WYSIWYG editor in WordPress doesn't appear to be very compatible with Google Chrome. More comparisons and compatibility issues to come in the full review.