Try a secret new search engine


Well, I’m not sure about secret, but it sure is mysterious. showed up in my visitor logs, and visiting the site it looks like rather a nifty visual search interface. It’s got thumbnails of the top results, and automatically generated keywords sorted by type down the left side:


The interesting part is that most of the site is returning 404 or authorization errors, which makes me wonder if they might still be in stealth mode? Unfortunately email messages to their public address bounce, they’ve got a private domain registration so I can get any contact details from that, and Google searches don’t get me any more information, so I can’t check with them before mentioning it here.

They’re using snap for the thumbnails, and I’m not sure how they’re pulling out the tags. The keywords definitely look automatically generated, rather than user driven. I’d love to know more about their work, so if anyone has more details or a way to contact them, email me or add a comment.

Welcome hackszine readers!


Jason Striegel over at hackszine, the blog of Maker magazine, has been a big supporter of my hacking with Google, and has just published an update on my IE porting work. He mentions the wiki I’ve set up to shed light on the obscure world of IE plugins, and you can look forward to lots of other fun stuff on the Facebook API here as I learn more about it. Thanks for the mention Jason!

GoogleHotKeys is Go!


I’ve officially launched Google Hot Keys. Check out the new site for the Internet Explorer and Firefox versions, help and screenshots.

There’s already been a lot more Firefox downloads since the name change, now I’m going to work hard to promote it to IE users too. So far, I’ve started the submission process for CNet’s, at the confusingly named! It looks like this will take around three or four weeks to go through their submission process, though I could speed it up if I paid $250, or went for a $9 a month package. One nice bonus is that it will appear on Windows Marketplace once CNet accepts it.

I’ll be reaching out to some of the people who’ve shown a past interest in PeteSearch, since I’m finally happy that I’ve got a product that will deliver a great experience! There’s an audience out there for this, and I will be pushing hard to get it in front of them.



This ZDNet article really reminded me why I started PeteSearch. It’s from 2004, and laments the lack of progress in searching, and not much has changed since then! Sure, there’s been iterative improvements, more flexible term matching, search history and the like, but nothing that a Google user from 2000 would be surprised by.

Part of the problem is that Google can copy most foreseeable outside innovations if they turn out to be popular. It’s really hard to make a business case for funding a company that would in effect be providing them with free R&D, with little prospect of a return. Google themselves are experimenting with new models, but without real competition, they’re in no rush to cook their golden goose. Ask have been the most innovative with their search UI, but even that is still based around the same basic layout.

One phrase really struck me from the article: "Don’t expect users to apply more than the basic tools and techniques to acquire information from a search engine." The stats show that only three percent of people used quotes or other advanced syntax.

A lot of people have concluded that this means people don’t want anything better, and there’s no point trying to improve the page-of-links presentation of results. My firm belief, and the reason I’m experimenting, is that I think it’s just a local-maximum in the space of possible UIs. Why not have a grid of 25 thumbnails, with the positions of the terms marked on each? Or live snippets of the actual rendered page below each link, not just the text? Or a micro-fiche-style view, where you cycle through all the pages at speed in full-screen? Sure, these are random examples, but are people in 2030 really still going to be using plain pages of links?

First PeteSearch IE beta build released

I just completed the installer, and so I’m now releasing the first public build of PeteSearch for IE:
It requires Windows 2000 or later, and Internet Explorer 7. Please give it a try, and let me know how you get on. I’ve updated the source repository, and I’ll be adding an article on how I built the installer soon.

More posts on porting Firefox add-ons to IE

Defrag Conference

I’ve just signed up for Defrag, a conference focused on the implicit web. In their own words:

Defrag is the first conference focused solely on the internet-based tools that transform loads of information into layers of knowledge, and accelerate the “aha” moment.

People often talk about information overload, and trying to cut down the amount of data people have to deal with. That approach leads to solutions where a computer tries to do part of the user’s mental processing for them, which is a slippery slope towards talking paperclips.

I want to give people more information, but in a form they can digest. I want to present something that all our wonderful pattern-matching circuitry can sink its teeth into. We’ve had millions of years of adaption to spotting pumas in the undergrowth, we should take advantage of that.

It feels like a lot of the Defrag folks are thinking along similar lines, so I’m hoping to meet some interesting people who are working at the same coal-face, and get advice and inspiration. Plus I’ve never been to Denver, so maybe me and Liz can combine it with a vacation!

PeteSearch now on

PeteSearch has finally made it through Mozilla’s review process, and is now on the main add-on site. It’s great to see it on such a high-profile site, but one of the really nifty things is that you now don’t have to go through the two-step process of adding as a trusted site in Firefox to install the addon, since is trusted by default.

It was a long and rocky road getting approval, since they recently added a new sandbox system, and require user reviews before they’ll allow an addon onto the public site. This does make sense, but unfortunately there’s almost no users writing reviews in the sandbox, I think at least partly because it’s tough to get to even if you know about it, and almost impossible to discover if you don’t.

Luckily Pavel Cvrček, Mike Shaver and Shawn Wilsher came to my assistance, and helped me work out how to get the user reviews from news sites and blogs taken into account when they’re evaluating my addon for publication. Shawn has a post explaining the policy in more detail, but in simple terms you need to add links to the external reviews in the  ‘Notes to Reviewer’ section before you nominate it. You get to that section by clicking on the  version number link, eg

Thanks Pavel, Mike and Shawn, I really appreciate your help!