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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tafiti, Microsoft’s Experimental Search

If you’re looking for a search engine that requires a plug-in, disables your back button, won’t allow you to right-click URLs to copy them, needs pop-ups enabled, and doesn’t let you use your mouse wheel to scroll, look no further than Tafiti.

OK, on a more serious note, is a new search experiment by Microsoft based on the Silverlight plug-in. Silverlight is a programming environment that allows web authors to do much more than regular DHTML can. It’s actually pretty tempting-looking from a developer perspective (Microsoft knows how to deliver cool programming environments), but it’s currently suffering from lack of deployment. And Tafiti – which means “do research” in Swahili, as Search Engine Land reports – is possibly more of a use-case for Silverlight than a real search engine.

For instance, one Tafiti feature shows search results as a colorful rotating tree. A slider at the bottom of the page allows you to reduce the number of branches and leaves. You can even toggle the rotation direction using arrow buttons. I guess it’s the kind of thing that looks good when demo’d but gets annoying when you’re actually in a hurry looking for a website (a tree would only start to be useful when you’d be able to expand branches in meaningful ways, though you’d need a better interface to easily do that).

As is often the case with advanced HTML, Flash, or other plug-ins, all that glitter comes at the price of accessibility (and sometimes, speed). Also, Tafiti is quirky: after some clicking around, I wasn’t able to bring up any search results anymore, for any term, even after restarting the browser. At other times, the page stalled, with Internet Explorer 7 alerting errors. The page is in Beta, fair enough, but there was a time when Beta meant that the programmers and testers actually tried hard and weren’t able to find any more bugs to squash... everything else was titled Alpha.

Last not least, I gotta say I think the site’s a bit of a visual overkill, with a semi-photorealistic environment that’s trying a bit too hard without actually achieving a neat design., Microsoft’s previous attempt at building a search engine improvement to, was a little more tasteful. If Microsoft aims to let Silverlight be the Trojan horse in the battle against competitor Google (who’s bringing office apps online, one by one), I think they need to do better than this.

What do you all think?


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