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Call My Agent:

Evolution In Information Retrieval

Call My Agent: Evolution In Information Retrieval

772 457 Raymond Blijd
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Read time: 2 min.

 It is known by many names: OffspringMagnets, Filters, Bloodhounds  but in theory they can also be called: Agents. My definition: An intelligent application that basically goes and fetches ‘your’ information without you re-entering a query at every instance. Undoubtedly there are other more scientific explanations but for argument’s sake we’ll keep it simple and stick to this one. Now, how can agents make our lives more pleasant?

 

You’ve got Mail!
The first ‘agent’ I used online were email newsletters. If an interesting site had the option to subscribe to an email newsletter it gave me two features in exchange for my email address and exposed preference:

  1. I did not need to visit the site to get the latest information;
  2. By popping up in my inbox, it was a reminder that this source existed.

More advanced email delivery systems gave you more flexibility in delivery times or topics to choose from and the more advanced sites gave you more sources. Yet, not all sites had these options so I moved on.

webtimeline

Blowing the Pipe
With the rise of R.S.S. (Really Simple Syndication) feeds also came more creative features to play with. As with email one could subscribe to a site and use a separate application (RSS Reader) to receive the information. Yahoo Pipes – An interactive feed aggregator and manipulator- gave me the extraordinary ability to, “rewire the web”. For example, one of my favorite pipes was created right after the launch of the first iPhone. It used several online feed sources and persistent searches to scour information on the iPhone. If a site did not provide a feed I could always create one for it by using a web scraper.

While it all started out nicely, information overload crept in really fast. By using services like Postrank to prefilter my feeds based on popularity I was trying to stem the tide. By using trends and suggestions instead of Pipes in Google Reader I was also encouraging serendipity.

Back to Basics
Twitter, Friendfeed ,and Facebook added a new dimension to this overload fire I was fueling. Especially FriendFeed was menacing in its torrent of good information. By piling on filters on feeds I think I’ve managed the problem. My latest darling filter isSummify iPhone app. It summarizes and reduces my Google Reader 78 feeds and Twitter 226 friends to 10 story-links every 8 hours, depending on my settings.

Looking at this from another angle I think I have subconsciously created a personalized newspaper edited by humans and machines alike. Yet, I feel like I’m still missing some things in terms of relevancy, quality, and serendipity. Moreover, in the real world, I’m still pleasantly surprised by learning new stuff from friends and colleagues at the water cooler. It’s also scary to realize that speed will increasingly become more important. The earlier we know something the better prepared we can be and you might even be able to predict the future.

I think the web has evolved enough for us start rekindling this notion of agents. My dream is to have an intelligent agent which can rummage the web and alerts my friends in the real world to provide me with relevant information based on my profile. In real time or at predetermined times based on the substance of the information and the impact on my live and work.

More importantly, I hope that the web and my friends also know that I’m available to share, just ring my agent.