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Posted at 10:12 AM ET, 02/ 7/2011

Qwiki.com's attraction: A multimedia encyclopedia

By Melissa Bell

qwiki.jpg

Picture a science-fiction movie, the Web site founder said: In some distant future, the intrepid extraterrestrial hero reaches for his computer and types in a question: "What is Earth?" Pictures flip across the screen, faster and faster, until the machine pauses on an image of a blue-and-green planet. The camera pans in as the planet starts to rotate. A soothing, female voice starts speaking: "Earth is the third planet from the sun . . . "

This science-fiction future "starts right here, in this room today," Doug Imbruce told the audience at a technology conference and start-up competition sponsored by Tech Crunch last fall. Then Imbruce launched into a pitch of his new site, Qwiki.com, intriguingly subtitled "the Information Experience."

A multimedia encyclopedia, Qwiki.com combines the best of both science and art, Imbruce went on to say. The science refers to Qwiki's search engine, which crawls through the Internet, pulling together text, videos and photographs of whatever search term is entered. The art? Well, it was obvious.

The judges were impressed, awarding Qwiki the top prize for a start-up. Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim liked Qwiki so much that they invested $8 million in the project in January. The Web site opened to the general public last week riding high on the news of the investment.

In my brief experience with it, Qwiki does appear to offer a new way for people to take in information on the Internet. The cyborg voice accompanying the multimedia presentation on the Great Barrier Reef tells me about the billions of coral polyps that compose the reef, as I watch a National Geographic video of bright fish darting around the reef and take note of a Google map showing me its location in the Coral Sea off the coast of northeast Australia. After the presentation, I was offered a menu of related topics and chose one on coral bleaching to learn about how stress causes coral to lose its coloration.

Contrary to the reigning philosophy of online information programs -- in which speed is considered king -- and contrary to its own name, Qwiki takes time. Seeing all the recent Egypt coverage, I yearned for an easy-access primer. Scanning a Wikipedia entry on Egypt took a few seconds. Watching a movie on Qwiki and listening to the measured pace of the narration required a more leisurely approach to acquire less information, since Qwiki is too new to offer truly encyclopedic depth on many topics. But I became so lost in the "story," I hardly noticed the minutes ticking by.

That is, until I got to this part: " . . . coupled with internal and political stability . . . "

The text was obviously pulled before Jan. 25, 2011. Unlike Wikipedia, Qwiki does not yet have a diligent army of editors. The quality and amount of information could - and should - change as the site becomes more curated, both by Qwiki staff and from its audience.

There are other potentially nifty uses for the Qwiki search engine.

Imbruce said he hopes to have a phone application that will pull personal information from your calendar and wake you with the time, the weather, upcoming events in your life and the news of your choosing.

Another possibility: interactive personalized Qwiki pages with short films about your life, creating by culling information you request from Facebook, YouTube and other sources.

Time will tell if Qwiki's promise will be fulfilled. But even though the Qwiki vision of our Internet future hasn't come fully into focus, what's visible so far is pretty appealing.

By Melissa Bell  | February 7, 2011; 10:12 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Assange in court; digital land grabs; the full sun
Next: Egypt updates: Wael Ghonim, Google executive, released

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