Thursday, July 28, 2011

Helping You Filter Streams - Darwin Awareness Engine

I've promised Bill Ives that I'd write a blogpost about Darwin Awareness Engine a long time ago. Finally, here's my post about this new and interesting service. Sorry it took so long...

How do you keep up with the news, tweets, updates and feeds? We live in the wonderful world of information abundance. But many feel overwhelmed by the amount and speed of information. Some even talk about information overload.

I described how I keep up with what's going on in the world and in my area's of interest. But can't it be better?
Yes, it can. This is where all kinds of new(er) solutions pop up. Like Techmeme and Postrank. There's even talk of Web Squared, Web 3.0 or the Semantic Web, which should help us filter through loads of information coming at us. Not just by highlighting 'the best tweets and feeds', but my semantically analyzing and summarizing the information.

The Darwin Awareness Engine fits in this movement. And I think they're doing a good job. I can see why they won several prizes. It works and it's useful.

Bill Ives explains what Darwin Engine is about and what it does here.
Rather than using semantic technology to attempt to enable understanding by a computer, our approach to awareness based on Chaos Theory provides a visualization of results that better enables a person to make more informed decisions about where to look next. Then there are tools that allow for efficient drilling down into relevant details. It builds on a person’s expertise rather than trying to replace it.
You can try it here or built on Twitter here. You'll see it presents the information in tagcloud-like visualizations. It also shows a ticker-tape. By adding and removing terms (attractors) the results can be manipulated.

I used Darwin Engine for some time. I don't use it very often anymore. My experiences are:

  • Darwin Engine or Twortex was an extra space for me to watch (besides the streams that I already pay attention to). It was too much for me to also keep going there. I also wonder if this has to do with usability. Are the visualizations visual enough and is the interface self-explanatory enough for users to keep coming back? The biggest challenge for a new service is to get users to integrate it in their workflow.
  • I liked the application of the Engine to Twitter, called Twortex. It would be great to flip the standard Twitter timeline with a more visual one like Twortex. Not only on terms but also on my or one of my follower's timeline. I do find Twortex kind of slow. Sometimes is keeps on processing without showing results.
  • Related to the previous bullet: I think it would be helpful to have a more visual navigation of my feeds in Google Reader. I'd like to see the traditional feedlist and easily flip to the visual mode. Flipboard and Zite show there a market for more visual navigation.
  • As mentioned on the website, Darwin Engine is great for business and competitive intelligence work. And for information management departments. It would be neat to use the Engine on internal company information as well.
I'm curious where Darwin Engine is headed. I hope my remarks are useful to the creators and users  of the Engine.
Have you used Darwin Engine? What are your experiences? Please share your comments or blogposts here.
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