Not a month goes by without someone launching a new real-time search engine; but after trying out most of them, there are few I use on a regular basis. Factery Labs is about to change that with today’s launch of its real-time fact engine at 1:00 pm ET. Where other real-time search engines focus on hot tweets, popular links, and the like, Factery Labs skips all that and surfaces the facts behind the day’s trending news.
(image provided by Factery Labs)
On the screenshot above (you can click for a larger version on Flickr), Factery Labs is showing hot topics like “california storms” and “supreme court ruling.” But rather than showing important tweets, tweets from important people, or the most popular links for each topic, it’s showing me the facts related to them. Under the “supreme court ruling” tab on the right, for example, a quick glance tells me that a 5-4 Supreme Court vote “loosened restrictions on corporate campaign spending and had President Barack Obama fuming.” It seems to me that this is exactly what real-time search needs: information, depth, and context.
During a demo call last week, Factery co-founders Paul Pedersen, who previously worked at Google and Infoseek, and Sean Gaddis, formerly at Netscape, eBay, and Skype, explained where the real-time facts are coming from and what happens behind the scenes. (Not on the call but worth mentioning here is that Factery’s lead engineer Nitay Joffe has spent time at both Google and Powerset.)
How It Works
Factery Labs tracks the trending topics from the Twitter and Google Trends APIs to determine what’s hot right now. It identifies relevant tweets and URLs from Twitter, and also taps into Yahoo BOSS to identify additional URLs that may be relevant to the trending topics. Once it has this collection of URLs, it scans them for facts and applies its FactRank technology (a nod to Google’s PageRank) to build what users see on the site’s “Trends” tab.
“We drill past the links and get into the pages to see if there’s something valuable to the user’s request,” Pedersen said last week. “It’s not news; it’s news according to what the web says is news. We show what’s happening as defined by the web, not by an editor.”
There are seven other tabs, covering topics like sports, politics, entertainment, and tech. The topics that show up on these are user-defined, and are not necessarily trending topics from Twitter and Google Trends.
Users can conduct searches and “favorite” their search by clicking a yellow star; this adds the query to the main panel and saves it there for when the user returns to the site. Each fact can also be shared via Facebook, Twitter, or email.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Factery’s fact engine is, to me, a compelling tool for anyone who’s interested in current news and events. The focus on facts over recent/hot tweets and popular links eliminates a lot of the noise that’s sometimes associated with trending topics and real-time search. It’s like Google News, only without all the blue links and the need to click five articles to find out what’s going on.
But there’s still room for improvement. It’s not completely free of noise/spam — I saw ticket agency offers appearing in the results for some sports-related topics. It sometimes pulls odd facts for topics on the non-trending tabs, like a legal disclaimer from NBA.com (see image at right). There are also some API issues with displaying the source of the facts; rather than seeing the real source of the fact, you’ll occasionally see Bit.ly and other shortened URLs. Factery says it’s working on a fix for that.
What I like about Factery’s fact engine is that it does the grunt work for me. It not only shows me what’s hot in the news right now, but it also tells me why. Popular tweets and links are part of the real-time equation, but some of that is noise; I think there’s real value in Factery’s focus on the facts.
And I can’t help but wonder, as Google and the other big search engines continue to emphasize answers, facts, and information “shortcuts” in their search results … is this a preview of what all search engines will look like someday?