Where Search Meets Research
December 31, 2008 7:07 AM   Subscribe

middlespot.com is a search interface for teachers, librarians, researchers and anyone who wants to interpret information faster from their search results, collect and annotate relevant results into groups, and share those collections with people relying on their expertise.

* see your results as screen shots that you can pan and zoom like a map

* save and annotate relevant individual results to collections in work pads

* share work pads with others who are looking to you for your expertise

* try the tutorial to catch on quick
posted by netbros (4 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Can you summarize what this does? I'm allergic to video tutorials.
posted by lukemeister at 12:48 PM on December 31, 2008

The tutorial isn't video, it's screen shots. You can do it. I promise.
posted by netbros at 1:00 PM on December 31, 2008

I tried it out for a bit, but I wasn't terribly impressed.

So you can visualize a website alongside the text, great. So you can put specific results into a workspace and share that. Great.

The search results didn't thrill me (search "Marie Antoinette" and have the recent movie come up as first result? uh, this is for *research* right?).

To be fair, it looks like the results are mainly (perhaps entirely? I didn't dig into it too much) lifted from Google, and Google's search results are equally crappy on Marie Antoinette. But I can more quickly get rid of the chaff on Google (which isn't presenting itself as specifically research oriented either; plus, I could switch over to Google Scholar if I did want Google's explicitly research oriented search results, and if I were on the reference desk right now answering that question, I probably would).

Why switch to an interface I'm not comfortable with, for something (screenshots) that I'm *not* interested in while doing research?

Bottom line? I guess I'm just missing the point.
posted by librarylis at 5:05 PM on December 31, 2008

Interesting. I am not sure I know how I feel about this -- but my first impression is not very good.

My least favourite feature is the gallery view (the screenshots occupying the right side of the screen), which does not have any apparent advantage over the regular text view. Sure, the screenshots provide a brief, visual summary of the search result, which allows the user to evaluate how relevant it is to his query -- but this is already done by the text snippets that accompany the result. The visual information does not provide anything extra. The Middlespot image search is even more useless, since it is no different than Google image search. If anything, I feel like the search process is being harmed by the gallery view, since more than 50% of screen real estate is being wasted on duplicated information.

The pan/zoom feature is neat -- but why would you want to do that? On maps, pan/zoom features are useful because they allow us to control the level of detail as we navigate, looking at only the relevant information depending on our needs (e.g., finding the fastest route to my friend's house requires a different level of detail than planning for a road trip). Panning and zooming are different ways of organizing information. On Middlespot, the screenshots are organized in the same order as the results in the text view, which means that the most relevant results are at the top and the least relevant are at the bottom. So, assuming that the text view is the same as the regular Google search, the most effective way of looking through the results is by going through them in order, regardless of purpose -- which is what we already do in the text view. Panning and zooming really doesn't add very much.

One possible use of the gallery view is as a memory aid for when a user is searching for a forgotten website. In this case, the gallery view might enable the user to quickly scan for a familiar-looking webpage without clicking through every single one of the links. This use would be limited to general information searches, where different search results tend to mean very different-looking websites, rather than looking through scholarly articles (formatting is pretty similar everywhere) or images (Google already does this).

The annotation and social networking aspects seem more useful -- but are they better than other online note-taking services? I don't really use them myself, so I don't have much to say about that.

I really hate to be so negative, but it's not clear as to why Middlespot is built the way it is. The About section does not do a very good job of explaining its features either, IMHO. Maybe I'm just looking at it wrong, but Middlespot strikes me as a rather bland search tool with fluffy eye candy.
posted by tickingclock at 5:16 PM on December 31, 2008

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