"The idea is having one place to interact with all your documents," says Suranga Chandratillake, Blinkx's co-founder and chief technology officer. "It's about stripping files from this obsessive connection with the file system."
It's not a new idea. Dissatisfaction with the desktop metaphor has simmered for years. But efforts to present files in a more usable and intuitive way--for example, Scopeware from Mirror Worlds Technologies Inc., which folded last year--have failed to catch on.
Nonetheless, Sue Feldman, VP of content technologies at research firm IDC, believes David Gelernter, the computer scientist who created Scopeware, had the right idea because the desktop metaphor doesn't work anymore. "I can't find my stuff," she says. "That's the same problem everyone else is facing."
Desktop-search software helps solve that problem. The increasing complexity of information management, both locally and over the network, demands a better way to find and organize files. The success of Apple Computer's iTunes software, which makes finding and organizing audio files much easier than hierarchical folders, is a lesson that has not gone unnoticed among companies developing search technology.
Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, with their mass-market desktop-search applications, may ultimately define how users interact with files in the long term as search becomes commoditized.
But Blinkx is setting the pace today. Its implicit query technology, licensed from Autonomy Corp., automatically tries to understand whatever document a user is working on and then make relevant search results available without explicit search instructions. Automating the query process is a significant advantage because, as Feldman notes, most people aren't good at telling search engines what they're looking for.
In addition to finding information, Blinkx 3.0 helps hide it as well. The company claims its software relies on encrypted communication to preserve user privacy and protect user data. Blinkx includes strong user authentication and respects Windows security profiles. The Mac version works the same way. In situations where multiple users share the same computer, Blinkx indexes and presents only the information appropriate to that user.
The software has both a new look and new functionality. It can now search some 200 file formats. It can also index local Lotus Notes content and E-mail. Its audio/video search works particularly well because Blinkx indexes actual content using speech-to-text technology, in addition to searching close-captioned text and metadata like competing audio/video search engines.
Smart Folders represent one of Blinkx's most compelling features. They're folders that automatically populate themselves with search results, which take the form of links to local and Internet documents. A user could, for example, set up a Smart Folder to track a week's worth of news stories on a given topic or all incoming E-mail messages that correspond to a particular query.
One idea worth tracking would be the new fight for the desktop. That's what Feldman says is happening with the emergence of a task-based information infrastructure. Its focus is on search, browsing, analysis, and distribution. Today's application-centric environment is "an expensive time-sink for enterprises," as users struggle to copy and paste their data across application boundaries.