Today I am writing to announce that Pomcor has been granted US patent 8,452,749 entitled Browsing Real-Time Search Results Effectively. If you have been following this blog you may be surprised that I am talking about search, since over the last two years I have been blogging about Internet identity, user authentication and privacy. The patented invention was made more than two years ago with NSF funding, and is now incorporated in our multisearch engine Noflail Search.
What do user authentication and browsing real-time search results have in common? They both fall within the scope of the Pomcor mission which, as stated on the company page, is to identify shortcomings of current technology and provide innovative solutions that advance the state of the art.
The problem with browsing real-time search results is that it is easy for the user to get confused and miss results when the result set of a query changes as the user is browsing it. Suppose for example that the user looks at the first page of results, which shows results 1 through 10, and decides to dig deeper into the result set by navigating to page 2. Suppose that result 11 is a tweet that is being frequently retweeted and goes up in rank from 11 to 10 by the time the user clicks on the Next button or the button for page 2 in the page menu. When page 2 is displayed it will not show the tweet, which now belongs in page 1, so the tweet will be missed.
To help the user keep track of changes in the result set, our invention maintains a set of identifiers of results that are deemed to have been seen by the user. When the user navigates away from a page, the identifiers of results in that page are added to the set. When a page is displayed, results whose identifiers are not in the set are highlighted, and page menu buttons of pages that contain such results are highlighted. In the example, this gives the user a chance to see the tweet, by noticing the that page 1 remains highlighted when she navigates to page 2. If she goes back to page 1 to see why it is highlighted, the tweet will be highlighted in the page.
Other features of the invention include a checkbox for freezing the result set temporarily so that no new results are brought from the back-end, and the option to shift-click on a page menu button, causing the identifiers in the current page to not be added to the set of results that are deemed to have been seen.
You may use Noflail Search to see the invention in action. Just go to noflail.com and run Noflail Search in Easy Mode (or, if you prefer, in Advanced Mode, which provides a search history; you can switch modes at any time). Enter a query on a trending topic in the query box, and run it on the search engine Topsy by clicking on the Topsy entry in the Search Engines panel. (Topsy is a great real-time search engine that has a site at topsy.com and a web API at otter.topsy.com, which Noflail Search uses.) If the trending topic is hot enough, it is fun to see how new results appear and old results change their positions in the result set as you use the page menu to navigate. Notice that you do have to navigate to see changes: nothing will happen until you click on a page menu button; but you can click on the button for the current page.