Qwiki, the intriguing Web service that turns Wikipedia articles, images, and other bits of information into animated, talking slideshows, has opened up to the public. (It won the best-of-show award at last September’s TechCrunch Disrupt show, where it debuted.) I’m still figuring out just how useful Qwiki is, but it sure is transfixing.
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Remember the search engine AltaVista? Ever wonder whatever happened to it? Nothing. It’s actually still a search engine. You’ve just completely forgotten about it and haven’t bothered to actually go to the site and check it out. But it’s still there and it still searches the Web. Why not take a look now?
The reason I mention AltaVista is because its cofounder, Louis Monier, is also the cofounder of Qwiki, a very cool search application that creates video stories on the fly based on your searches. The technology incorporates open resources such as photos on Flickr and descriptions on Wikipedia to create its instant video slideshows. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, says Monier, explaining that this is just a first demo of a technology with lots more to come. Unfortunately I couldn’t coax that “more to come” out of him when I stopped by Qwiki’s booth before the service won the “best of show” award at TechCrunch Disrupt to get a demo of his application.
The TechCrunch Disrupt show has filled a sizable San Francisco conference center to the brim with tech startups. They aren’t all, um, winners. (If I see one more Foursquare variant predicated on the idea that we all spend 98% of our time thinking about our favorite stores and brands, I’m going to run from the building screaming.) But there’s some good stuff, too. One I like is Qwiki, a still-in-private-alpha service whose creators include Louis Monier, one of the inventors of search engines.
Qwiki’s inventors are demoing both a Web-based version of the service and a rough draft of an iPad one here at the show. Type in the name of something you want to learn about (I chose “Boston University”) and Qwiki creates an animated slideshow about it, with photos and the occasional factoid zipping about. It also uses text-to-speech technology and information sources such as Wikipedia to tell you about the topic in a voice that’s robotic, but only slightly so. On the Web-based version, you can click on the images and factoids to hop from one Qwiki to another.
I’m not sure if I agree with TechCrunch’s MG Siegler that Qwiki may be “the future of information consumption,” but it’s intriguing at least–the basic idea is rife with potential. You can sign up at the Qwiki site to get early access.