We're all pretty used to search engine interfaces being pretty simple and lightweight these days. A simple input box, a couple of buttons, and a simple list of output for results. But what else might a search engine interface look like? Well there are a couple of other, definitely non-traditional, interfaces out there to compare.
One of them is Ms Dewey. Now Ms Dewey has been around for a couple of months but if you haven't seen the sight it is worth a look if only to talk about it. Ms Dewey is a search engine site that features an attractive and occasionally abrasive female avatar that takes your questions and provides answers. It's an interesting site but I find myself asking questions in part to see what her response will be. Ask about "guns" some time. Actually several times as she has different replies to that one. Searches for "Bill Gates" or "Microsoft" are also kind of interesting. But is it more than a novelty?
Tafiti is another skin over a search engine.
Tafiti, which means "do research" in Swahili, is an experimental search front-end from Microsoft, designed to help people use the Web for research projects that span multiple search queries and sessions by helping visualize, store, and share research results. Tafiti uses both Microsoft Silverlight and Live Search to explore the intersection of richer experiences on the Web and the increasing specialization of search.
Currently it has a Halo 3 look because Halo 3 launched this week. (I've got my copy so I wrote this earlier in the week to make it look like I wasn't playing games today.) Tafiti lets you save searches and there are different icons to switch between searching the web, RSS feeds, images and the news. Its an interesting experiment.
I see these sites as more tour de force than ideal user interfaces. Of course it is a common student failing to spend more time trying to impress the instructor with a fancy user interface than putting real results into the behind the scenes code. On the other hand once you have the behind the scenes stuff in place there can be a lot of value into finding new and interesting ways to provide the results.
So I can see using these sites as a way to discuss the whole idea of what makes a good user interface and were are the lines between form and function.