Microsoft plug-in lets users try group search

SearchTogether, an IE7 plug-in, enables people to collectively search the Web, annotating results, sharing the labor, and saving sessions for later perusal.

Microsoft's Research group announced an Internet Explorer 7 plug-in called SearchTogether on Wednesday that turns Web searches into a group activity.

The plug-in lets people set up what amounts to search chat rooms, in which a group of people can jointly peruse search results. Users can chat, annotate specific results with comments, ratings, and recommendations. Members of a group also can return later to view the annotated search session.

The SearchTogether browser plug-in provides an interface that looks like this illustration from a 2007 paper on the collaborative searching technique. At far left are notes about the joint session; in the central pane,  search results are interspersed with annotations and thumbs-up or thumbs-down ratings; in the upper right is an instant-messaging window; and in the lower right are the search results themselves.
The SearchTogether browser plug-in provides an interface that looks like this illustration from a 2007 paper on the collaborative searching technique. At far left are notes about the joint session; in the central pane, search results are interspersed with annotations and thumbs-up or thumbs-down ratings; in the upper right is an instant-messaging window; and in the lower right are the search results themselves. Microsoft

It also lets people perform a "split search," in which results are divided among different users in separate browser tabs. Many hands make light work, as the saying goes.

Unlike Wikia Search , the service doesn't actually alter search engine results.

But Microsoft clearly has the idea in mind, at least for adjusting the results particular users see if not the general list.

"There are changes to underlying search engine algorithms that could take advantage of the knowledge of a group," said Meredith Ringel Morris, the project leader and a member of Microsoft's Adaptive Systems and Interaction group.

"Groupization takes the idea of personalization techniques for customizing a list of search results to an individual and customizes a list of search results to a group, based on information you know about each member of the group. You can either exploit similarities among all the group members, to bubble up search results that would be most relevant to the group as a whole. Or you could exploit differences among the group members, send portions of the search results to different people in the group based on what you can automatically determine is their specific area of expertise.

Google, too, is exploring personalized results, though not among members of a group. For users who sign up for a service, Google tailors search results based on a person's browsing history.

Microsoft gives a quick walk-through of the technology on a video demonstration (WMV file) in which a family collectively browses diabetes search results.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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