An interesting new experiment by Microsoft, Ms. Dewey, offers a truly original search interface. Using heavy Flash design, a fully animated, photo-realistic librarian responds to your typed search requests. What gives the site even more of an edge is that the librarian is a sexy young woman in an outfit that is both alluring and business-like, and that she responds to requests with pre-programmed sarcastic comments related to the search terms. (Try some terms at the sexier end of the spectrum…) Even while you are idle, Ms. Dewey remains animated… sighing at you, rapping on the screen to get your attention, pacing around on her cell phone…
The combination of Ms. Dewey’s expressive acting, the superb translation of video to flash, and an excellent audio track, make this an impressive demonstration. Sure, it’s slow. You could do a dozen Google searches in the time it takes Ms. Dewey to get through just one. And the search results are small and hard to read. But nobody is going to use this for real searching – they’ll keep typing stuff in to see what they can get Ms. Dewey to say. And since her responses to the same search aren’t always identical, they’ll end up typing in the SAME terms multiple times.
This will be a cool viral promotion for Microsoft, but I think it’s also a harbinger of the kind of interface we’ll see in the future for at least some types of sites. Imagine a virtual customer service rep. Instead of sexy and sarcastic, she (or he) might be soothing and eager to help. A pre-programmed set of responses triggered by words entered by the customer could guide them through the process of solving a problem, adding a new service, etc. Voice recognition is getting good enough to allow spoken interaction.
After you play with Ms. Dewey for a while, you start to get an idea of what could be accomplished in the not-too-distant future. Ms. Dewey isn’t the search interface of the future, but she’d make a great salesperson. And, in the near term, maybe she’ll help Microsoft shed the “PC Guy” image.