Silobreaker is a search engine designed for news junkies who want as much information as possible--with some graphical analysis thrown in, to boot. The interface takes some getting used to, but we like the thorough aggregation and mix of articles and multimedia.
All the News that's Fit to Post
Silobreaker aggregates content from approximately 10,000 sources, including news, blogs, multimedia, and research, providing a robust reading list. But it also delivers visual results, generating graphs and charts designed to illustrate trends and put the news of the day in context. Silobreaker has dedicated sections on Business and Science & Technology, as well as a sprawling Global Issues section, which includes an array of topics, from world conflict and national politics to health and environmental findings. In short, it's for news junkies who want to digest as much information as quickly as possible.
Compared with other search engines, Silobreaker has a complicated interface. In the top nav, you can cut to the chase and choose the type of news that interests you. You can also choose how you want it filtered: 360-degree search, as the name implies, culls information from a well-rounded, deep field of sources.
The home page, which shows all news by default, has three columns, much like a newspaper; its large font requires a lot of scrolling. In the left column, are the most recent stories according to the section. At the top of the two rightmost columns, you'll find graphs and other visuals. Beneath those, spanning two columns, are the latest blog headlines, followed by a list of all articles.
The rest of the interface depends on what kind of search you do. By default, the site does 360-degree searches, which includes news articles, blog posts, audio and video content, quotations and a fact sheet (if you've searched for a person), and links to Silobreaker's network, trends, and hot spot sections (more on that later).
If you search for a person, the first thing you'll see at the top of your screen is a Fact Sheet listing the person's birth date, title, and organization, among other data. If you roll over a Fact Sheet link, you'll see a box including similar information and more, including an educational and professional history and a list of the person's spouses and children.
When you perform a 360-degree search, the interface still looks cluttered, but less so than Silobreaker's home page. We wish it were cleaner, but at least we can appreciate that all of the blog posts and news articles are on the left, and all of the multimedia and other unconventional materials are on the right.
When you click on an article's headline, you don't immediately go to the article; you get another page showing what other sources have reported on the same story and a list of related stories; the link "Read Full Article" is relatively small compared to all this. If the article doesn't seem relevant (perhaps your search terms, for instance, aren't in the headline), you can scroll over the headline with your mouse and read the contextual paragraph before clicking through for the whole article.
On each page are three graphics that Silobreaker uses to show the relevance of any particular topic. The first, Network, shows the person, place, or thing you've searched for as an icon surrounded by other icons (each representing related people, places, and things). Clicking on the graphic brings you to the Network search page, which establishes connections based on the same sorts of sources you'd find in Web results. For instance, it backs up a connection between John McCain and Joe Lieberman based on a speech in which Lieberman expressed his support for McCain.
While most connections are usually relevant, occasionally some come out of left field. Silobreaker was correct to link Michael Phelps to Stephanie Rice, an Australian Olympic swimmer with whom he was romantically connected, but to place Hillary Clinton on the same map is a stretch. (For the record, Phelps hosted Saturday Night Live the same night Tina Fey first returned to play Sarah Palin, and Amy Poehler joined her on stage as Senator Clinton). If a connection doesn't make sense, you can roll over the secondary word to see a box with contextual information and quotations, including recent news articles. If you do a network search, you'll still see relevant quotes and reading material beneath the map.
The Trends tab shows how much media attention your search terms have been attracting compared with other topics. We liked being able to type in additional search terms in the bar accompanying the graph, click Add, and see that analysis added to the chart. You could use this feature, for instance, to chart how much media attention Barack Obama has been receiving compared with John McCain.
Similarly, the Hot Spots tab lets you pick a topic, and then renders a map showing where these topics are most important (i.e., are receiving the most press). For instance, doing a Hot Spot search for "economic recession" showed a large red dot in Chicago, along with smaller red dots in other industrialized nations. Meanwhile, a Hot Spot search for Africa showed more dots in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe than in North America.
Although not necessary, users can create custom accounts with the search engine. This allows them to personalize their home page, adding widgets for top stories, blogs, and other contents. Registered users are the only ones with access to all the content ever posted on the site; if you're not signed in, you can only see articles from the last 30 days. Finally, registered users can schedule alerts and request new features from the site's developers.
Since Silobreaker's interface is less linear than Google and other major search engines, you're better off sticking with these big players if you want news quickly. But Silobreaker's aggregator is thorough, it places seemingly irrelevant articles in context, and it generates contextual graphs and charts, making it a robust destination for curious minds. All in all, while many people might prefer a more traditional Web search, seeing the connections arranged graphically provides a quick way to get an overview of a situation.