SearchFox Rocks. But Where Are the Web Services?

Martin Dittus · 2005-10-12 · commentary, data mining, recommendation engines, tools, web services · 2 comments

SearchFox is really great. It's a web-based feed reader (currently in beta) that watches you reading feeds, and which uses this attention data to improve your reading experience. After you have used it for a while SearchFox develops an understanding of the things you care about, and presents these accordingly (feed articles are sorted by ranking, not time).

How SearchFox works

There are several ways to tell the application that you like a specific feed article: by reading the article (in SearchFox you are presented with a list of headlines and some metadata, and have to click a link to display the actual feed content), by clicking on its headline which opens the article's URL, by flagging it as a favorite, and probably more. Then there is some sort of statistical word analysis going on in the background to determine factors that make an article interesting to you.

Among the metadata presented with every article is a "score", which is a number describing SearchFox's estimate if you would like to read the article or not. You can actually watch the score of an article change if you click on it and then reload the SearchFox page.

This all works incredibly well, and results in a much nicer reading experience. I don't feel overwhelmed when presented with 250 unread articles, because it's much easier to skim and find the important stuff.

But where are the web services?

I just thought that it would be great to get access to the attention data captured with SearchFox, as it would allow us to develop applications based on the service. E.g. something like Nick Bradbury's Feed Reports in FeedDemon. As a satisfied user and a developer I would embrace such a web service instantly.

The only usage data SearchFox currently provides is a small list of keywords that seem to correlate to topics you like -- but there is no further information about these keywords (e.g. I'm not even sure if they are shown in order of importance), and no web service API to retrieve them. My list currently looks like this:

Topics I like:

ning, 2.0, services, oktober, irc, safari, acquires, digital, ubuntu, macorama, looking, tim, upcoming, canvas, experiment, james, martin, identity, feed, who

Interesting, but not useful. To make it useful you need a way to retrieve it.

Here are some of the things that I would like to retrieve from a SearchFox web service (leaving out the basics, like OPML export of my subscriptions):

I.e., I would like to retrieve both the result of SearchFox's algorithms (the scores), and some of the raw data used to genereate these scores.

The good thing about SearchFox's business model: they can easily give up this data without risking losing customers. The value of this data rises with the amount of time you spend using the application. There is no reason for me to leave them, except if someone comes along and provides better service (like, say, by providing such a web service API that allows you to access the data you generate).

Or to rephrase: providing a web service to access this data would be good for everybody. It would make for a more interesting product, and others would increase the product value to both the SeachFox team and the users, simply because they can.

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I certainly share your vision regarding web services. We are actually releasing the "export subscriptions" feature in a few days. In addition, you may have noticed the orange RSS button that will soon let you syndicate your personalized set of feeds to consume using your favorite reader.

We are still working around the clock fine tuning the engine and finishing up some key features for the reader. I expect to start working on APIs for developers as we get closer to launching the product.

Thank you for the feedback and keep it coming.

Esteban Kozak, 2005-10-12 23:47 CET (+0100) Link


that was a quick reply!

After submitting this I realized that my headline might sound a little harsh; of course I know you're in the early stages and are still working on some of the basics.

But that's a great answer, and I'm looking forward to future announcements!

martin, 2005-10-13 01:16 CET (+0100) Link

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