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Tafiti — it’s not English, it’s Swahili

Microsoft has been battling for some time to catch up with Google and Yahoo in the search engine space. But is Tafiti the answer, wonders Rahul Sharma.
By Rahul Sharma | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON APR 23, 2008 03:17 PM IST

Tafiti. That’s the new word swirling around chatrooms and blogs. No, it’s not English, so don’t run for your dictionary. It’s Swahili and means “do research”. It’s a pretty experimental website launched last week by Microsoft — a combination of its Live Search and an interface built into its Silverlight plug-in (that it had launched in April).

According to the site, Tafiti is an experimental search front-end from Microsoft, designed to help people use the Web for research projects that span multiple search queries and sessions by helping visualise, store, and share research results. Interesting enough reason to step into this new world.

So I dropped into www.tafiti.com to figure out whether it worked. While it opened fine, I couldn’t go very far once I got in. Not sure whether it was a poor broadband connection, I peeped into the blogworld. The word wasn’t very good.

“Well Tafiti Fizzles for me. Although I have SilverLight installed, the page keeps insisting I need it installed! Looks like the light is on but nobody’s home!” said Kam on the wired.com blog.

Chady Bourtros wrote: “They (and this one means Microsoft) always get things wrong. Cool ideas, but too many graphics. I will find what I am looking for a lot faster with Google … ditch the eye candy, we aren’t kids anymore.”

Here’s my view. While aesthetically well-rounded, Tafiti is slow and requires a Microsoft Passport login and password. The big question therefore is: Why would you want to use it if you are doing fine with Google?

The visual experience, however, was quite unlike with whatever else available on the Net. Google is a solid search engine that is now a standard on most personal computers. Ask people what their home page is and most would answer Google. Tafiti is still a beautiful site that would take some time to be tweaked to meet user satisfaction.

Microsoft has been battling for some time to catch up with Google and Yahoo in the search engine space. But is Tafiti the answer? I don’t think anybody can say for sure yet.

Primarily, writes Scott Gilbertson on wired.com (http:// blog.wired.com/monkeybites/) “Microsoft seems to intend Tafiti as a means of showing off SilverLight and indeed, Tafiti has a gorgeously slick front end.”

It definitely does. Once you have installed SilverLight and you step into Tafiti you will find that search results take most of the screen. On the right are “shelves” where you can drag your search results and save them. On the left is a carousel that gives you the options of searching the Web, news, images and various RSS feeds. They can also be saved. Like in the Quintera search engine, your searches can be saved and shared.

And then there is the Tree. The search results in Tafiti can be seen as objects revolving around a tree in slow motion. They make for wonderful viewing, but as one blogger wrote, there isn’t always need for sweet graphics when you are in a hurry to search for something that you consider very important.

Another called the site “a bit of a visual overkill, with a semi photorealistic environment that’s trying a bit too hard without actually achieving a neat design.” But let me not sit in judgement: why don’t you go in there and tell me all about what you find?

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