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Viewzi launching visual search platform [invites]

Don't like your search engine's interface? Here's a place to build a new one.

I have written unkindly in the past about Redzee, a search engine with a too-cute-by half search results page. But I like the new visual search experiment Viewzi, which brings more variations to search interfaces.

Viewzi gives you different options to visualize search results. There is one that's very much like Redzee (and Apple Cover Flow). Its design is a little less frenetic, though, so it's easier to get a picture of your search results. In a way, Viewzi validates the Redzee concept by making visual search usable.

Clever, but not too clever: Viewzi's screenshot view is surprisingly usable.

My favorite Viewzi view is the 4 Sources View, which gives you a visual grid of your search results from the four major search engines (Google, Yahoo, Ask, and Microsoft), with the pages "stacked" when they duplicate. It's an easy way to see search results from multiple search engines, and the extra datapoint--the results that the multiple engines see as important--is useful.

The 4 Sources View shows you the search results that come back from multiple engines.

There are other views that are better for videos, for audio files, and for images. Some of these get a little more involved. The Celebrity Photo View, for example, throws image results into a pile on the screen, and lets you zoom into photos by clicking on them.

The Viewzi company concept is not to build all the interfaces, but rather to be a platform that allows developers to build search engine interfaces easily. The platform works against multiple search engines, and it is supposed to automatically select the appropriate interface based on which engine returns the best results for a query, and the type of data returned.

The "Celebrity Photo" View.

The service doesn't yet do the auto-selection of its results views, and the platform's API is not yet open. But the company is, in essence, trying to act as the broker between users and search engines, by doing two things: Sending search queries to multiple engines at once, and by taking search results and displaying them in better (or at least different) ways than the search companies are doing now.

The flexibility of the idea has also led to some oddball search views on Viewzi: Site-specific results that I found confusing because they return results from very specific sources (like Reuters or TechCrunch). However, these experiments do highlight how developers could use the engine to create focused search results pages for particular sites.

As I said recently in a post about Twitter's API, the best user-interaction designers don't necessarily work at the best technology platform companies. Projects like Viewzi can give interface designers access to powerful services that could stand to be more useful or more attractive. While this separation of presentation and back-end technology will almost certainly lead to the development of some really unfortunate user interfaces, it could also foster the creation of some great leaps in online design. I'm all for it.

You can try the Viewzi experiment yourself at this link, using referral code "Webware." (There are 1,000 invitations set aside for us, so act fast). Be aware that unlike in dedicated search engines, the user flow is bit roundabout: First, you enter your search query. Then you pick a "view." Finally, you get your results. After that, you can select new a view if you like.

Related: Pogo, AT&T's upcoming Web browser, and the PicLens browser plug-in.