Soople

Soople is a simple, but powerful idea. It is a search interface that overlays Google so that searchers don’t have to know Google’s syntax in order to be able to take advantage of of their advanced search features.

One of the things that frustrates me is that general web search engines, with few exceptions such as MSN’s search builder, have not done much of anything beyond tabs to help users formulate queries, and MSN’s search builder isn’t great at this point. Tabs work to target queries to source types rather than helping to formulate searches. Soople changes all that by laying a very easy to use interface over Google’s bare search box.

On Soople, rather than typing in syntax like define: ontology, there is a search box called Definitions, so that all you have to do is enter the word ontology into that box and it formulates the query and sends it against Google. Now, you may be thinking that define: is not too difficult a thing to remember, but there are about fifteen other things that Soople helps with such as searching within a site, filtering by file type, mathematical equations, related sites, conversions, etc. To see all they offer, check out their overview of all functions.

Something I really like is that Soople has pop-up JavaScript windows that succinctly explain each type of search. That way there’s no confusion for me as a user about what’s happening. They also offer a personalized My Soople interface and a free account takes about 3 seconds to set up. Then you can personalize the My Soople section. I personalized it by including every type of search they offer. Is that really personalization? If a tree falls….oh, never mind, it works for me.

Soople also offers some proprietary search help not available on Google. Such as searching for a topic that provides advanced features for focusing searches by subjects, such as books, fashion, sports, etc.

The search set functionality lets each user target searches to a selection of sites. In other words, you can create a search set for something like sports by adding sites like ESPN, MLB, Yahoo Sports, etc. Then save that set of sites and run searches against just that group. As Soople’s instructions aptly put it, “This way you can create your own miniwebs to search in.”

Recently I sent Soople over to a friend of mine whose opinion about search I respect more than anyone else I know. His response was: I gave up years ago and don’t even bother with the advanced operators. I use the single box and simply alter my query words. Works well enough most of the time and I think the masses fall into this camp. I’ll call it Camp Lazy Users. So, if I’ve given up on advanced operators then I really have no need for a Soople type page — it tries to give me stuff I do not use to begin with. Not saying it doesn’t have value, just doesn’t work for me.

My response to him was as follows: In my opinion, presenting a single search box and a few tabs to users and expecting that to satisfy all queries is a lot to ask. It’s difficult enough for me to keep up with the syntax each engine uses, let alone for most users, so I think an interface like this is great.

I believe that “helping” users with queries is one of the things we’ll see web search engines working on in the next year. Right now everyone is convinced that the simple Google type of UI is the be all, end all. But I disagree. Remember Dialog? Searching on Dialog offered some of the most powerful searching I’ve run across and subsequently its syntax was the most difficult to learn. Because of that I hated using Dialog and I never go back to use them because I’ve forgotten how to. And that’s a shame. But we’re going to see the same thing happening to web search engines if they’re not careful. They’re going to throw in all these new search options that hardly anyone will use because they’re so stuck on the clean UI. But it’s not too late. They can still build interfaces, or improve upon the advanced search pages, to help guide us through the search process.

Soople may not change the world of search, but I for one hope it does. For web search engines, who purport to be the interface to the world’s information, why is it that they leave us hanging with a naked search box augmented with tabs? That’s not enough. Although there are advanced search pages to use, and they’re a step in the right direction, they seem to be focused on parameters like language, adult content filtering, and Boolean terminology. All of that is important, no doubt. But where is the easy to use syntactical interfaces (is that the right way to say that?) for things like unit conversions and equations and flight information and time zones and so forth and so on? I hope the Soople idea catches on. Helping users create better queries will result in better search relevancy.

About Chris

I'm Chris and I've worked in the search engine industry since the late '90s.

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