Pomcor Granted Patent on Method of Browsing Real-Time Search Results

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.

Browsing Real Time Search Results

We have just released a cool new feature of Noflail Search. You can now watch how results change in real time as you use the page menu to browse a result set.

When you leave a page, the results in that page become “old”. Old results are shown with a dimmer grey background, and a page that only has old results has a dimmer grey button in the page menu. Noflail Search checks for new results when you click any button in the page menu. If a page that you’ve already visited has new results, its button is black rather than grey, and the new results are highlighted within that page by a brighter background.

You can control how the result set changes. You can make the results in the current page old without going away by clicking on a button for the current page in the page menu. You can go away without making the results old by holding down the shift key while clicking. And you can stop new results from coming in by freezing the result set. A short YouTube video tutorial goes over all this.

Noflail Search is a multisearch engine, that lets you run a query on many different search engines. It can run a query on an engine’s site and display results in pop-up window as rendered by the engine’s front-end. But for some engines that have a Web API, Noflail Search gets results by default through the API and displays them using the Noflail Search front-end. The new real time feature works for all those engines. I suggest that you try it out on the results provided by the real time search engine Topsy, which change fast for trending topics. But even results from a more traditional search engine such as Bing can be seen changing as you browse them.

This new feature solves an open problem in real time search: how to browse results that change frequently.

Some real time search engines, such as Twitter search (at twitter.com or search.twitter.com) and Google/Realtime (at google.com/realtime) show results ranked by recency in a constantly scrolling display. This shows how results change, but it is not very practical, since the user has to watch many irrelevant results go by before catching a relevant one.

Other real time search engines, such as Topsy (at topsy.com), rank results by both recency and relevance, with a traditional paginated user interface. This makes it easier to find relevant results, but it may be difficult to keep track of what results you have seen. If a result moves from page 2 to page 1 as you go from page 1 to page 2, the user may miss it.

Twitter and Google/Realtime address this open problem by also showing, besides the fast scrolling display, three older more relevant results. This concedes that they do not know how to blend recency and relevance.

Our new feature makes it possible to rank results by a balanced combination of recency and relevance and to use a paginated user interface, while at the same time showing how results change in real time and helping the user keep track of what results have been seen.

This new feature derives from research funded in part by grant 1013594 from the National Science Foundation.

We have patents pending on this and other aspects of Noflail Search.