Retro text editor goes searching

A group of programmers from the image-based search engine, snap.com, have developed a new hands-on search engine modelled on the Unix-based text editor, vi.

visearch (pronounced vee-eye) started as a lunchtime musing between snap.com colleagues Brad Haugaard, Joe Chen and Ken Yeh who wondered what life would be like with a text dedicated search engine for the keyboard savvy.

"We were talking about Snap.com's search engine and commenting on its appeal to people who like images, but then we wondered about people who are not really interested in images," Haugaard said. "We then realised there were some great features in vi that could be incorporated into a search engine."

Like most UNIX system interfaces and other text editors, vi (which was created by Sun Microsystems' co-founder, Bill Joy), lets you control programs by using a keyboard rather than a combination of mouse and keystrokes. Its hands-on approach lends itself to programmers and users familiar with touch-typing.

"Other search engines make you take your hands off the keyboard and fiddle with the mouse," he said. "Even though the mouse is an amazing invention, for someone who is keyboard savvy, like a vi user, it can be a big time waster."

Basic functions such as scrolling through and selecting search listings are executed by pressing the "j", "k" or "enter" keys. But where vi search deviates from other search engines is in its ability to allow users to add notes, save searches and even delete listings -- a function that Haugaard finds "very satisfying" when trudging through search results.

With its retro design, replete with fluoro green text on black background, and use of vi commands, Haugaard expects the engine to appeal to hardcore programmers familiar with text editors.

However, he also feels the added features (deleting, editing and saving listings) would appeal to a wider audience and could be put to good use in more conventional search engines.

Although the emphasis on mouse-less navigation would suit vi enthusiasts and touch typists alike, the search engine remains mouse compatible for the casual user.

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