Qwiki.com: Google Meets Wikipedia
By Andrew Silver, Grade 11

A hefty, wide-eyed captain stares into a holographic data projector.  He has been informed that he received a plant from Earth: signifying that life is again possible.  Unfortunately, he has no idea what “Earth” actually is, because his spaceship has been on an interstellar cruise for centuries.  “Computer, define Earth,” he commands.  Over the next few minutes, the computer takes him on a whirlwind visual tour of definition to definition, capturing his mind, heart, and soul in the process.  A skeptic might point out that movies like Wall-E traditionally highlight far-fetched technology, but like other so-called far-fetched ideas (the Navy, for instance, recently demonstrated laser weapons), this rich, interactive information experience is now possible with a search engine called “Qwiki.”

Qwiki came out swinging as an alpha release engine back in January, winning last September’s TechCrunch Disrupt by a landslide; the day after I signed up for testing, it went live on the web.  Eduardo Saverin, the Facebook co-founder (not hurting for money as depicted in the Academy-Award winning “The Social Network”), led the funding with a whopping $8 million.  As of April, the investments had risen to $10.5 million, and for a good cause.  Qwiki scrounges Wikipedia articles and the web, looking for the most important information, and presents the facts to a user via a slideshow of videos, still photos, text, and voice.  The text-to-voice translation did not always turn out perfect (when I first searched “St. Augustine” it pronounced saint as street), but the quality, speed, and simplicity was impressive.  “We believe that just because data is stored by machines doesn’t mean it should be presented as a machine readable list,” the website’s About Us page states, “Let’s try harder.”

With Florida legislation pushing virtual education and virtual class materials, Qwiki can have uses in the personal, business, and education environments.  Instead of reading a long Wikipedia article, vacation-goers could figure out the significance of a monument with a couple of key-presses.  Instead of settling for a map when chatting with customers, employees could get some background information to create comfort.  Instead of skipping the search for knowledge altogether, middle and high school students could learn more about the world and its inhabitants in a compelling and non-demanding way.  There have been numerous times I have wanted to learn about a random animal or place, but I was too bored to read a six-page encyclopedia entry.  Qwiki takes the information age to a completely new level, and complements the “instant coffee” mentality of the 21st century Americans.

Qwiki is about to roll out an iPad app, and is sponsoring code-hacking contests for any college interested in participating.  


Rosemary - Tech Editor
5/8/2011 09:53:51 am

Once again Andrew, good job! I'm using Qwiki now for almost all of my major school projects. In fact, I just used it two days ago to research holograms for an English assignment. Great article, and great program! :D


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