Friday, February 4, 2011

RocketMenu: Unobtrusive Search and Reference Tool

This is the second post in a series where I revisit an old idea that is "sitting on the shelf." This idea is from November 2005.

Remember 1-Click Answers (Formerly "Gurunet" and "Atomica")?  Babylon Translator? These tools (from back in 2005) were great because they provided useful reference information on-the-fly. For instance, with 1-Click Answers, you could highlight a word in any application (on the web, within Microsoft Word, etc.), and get a definition, synonyms, antonyms, etc.

With Babylon, you could highlight a word and get an instant translation in a number of languages.  Babylon was especially cool (from a technical point of view, anyway) because it used OCR-like technology and even worked with images (not just plain text).  That is, you could get an instant translation of a word that was inside an image.  Pretty nifty.

I came up with RocketMenu - a more flexible search and reference tool:
  1. Users select any word or phrase with their mouse.
  2. A small icon appears beside their selection.
  3. Moving the mouse over the selection displays search, dictionary, thesaurus, and other results customizable by the end-user. Unobtrusive text-based advertisements appear beside the results.
  4. Should the end-user click on one of these advertisements, both RocketMenu and the Site Operator (from where the original word or phrase was selected) receive a small portion of the advertising revenue. 
Here's an early design:
Here, I just stuck Google Adsense to the right of the menu.

Later, I improved upon the model by removing most of the advertising and instead relying instead on affiliate revenue (that is, many of the links, when clicked, would generate revenue to RocketMenu).  I also made the menu items context-aware.  Items would become bold if the search term matches a pre-defined context.

In the following example, the search term is "" and the menu items "WhoIs", "Web Archive," etc. have all been set to become bold when the input is a web address (ends in ".com" or ".net", etc.)

RocketMenu was designed to be a desktop app (like 1-Click Answers and Babylon). Additionally, web site operators could "embed" RocketMenu into their web sites, and, in doing so, we would share our revenues with them.

The idea is that every word or phrase on the computer screen becomes a vector for:
  • more information (for users)
  • additional revenue (for web site operators)
I envisioned a home page with a very direct call-to-action ("Download RocketMenu Now").

My pitch to web publishers was centered around easily earning additional revenue.  Further, I was trying to run with the idea that web publishers were inspiring lots of revenue-generating searches on Google, Yahoo, and other leading search engines.

Meaning, you read about something on some web site, then you jump over to Google and search for something related to what you just read.  Chances are, Google monetized that search you just did.  The web site that inspired your search earned nothing.

Here is a more complete set of wireframes, if you're interested. You'll see that I was using a mix of Visio and pencil & paper for my wireframes and mockups at the time (now I use Balsamiq Mockups almost exclusively).
RocketMenu Version 1 Wireframes

Over time, a number of companies have emerged with similar products.  Among them are Vibrant Media, HyperwordsApture, Wordclick, and I'm sure many others (I haven't taken a look in many years).  UPDATE: Check out Highlighter - they have a really interesting approach.

This is one of those projects that I abandoned simply because I got busy with other work.  There might still be something here, although I am sure many details would have to change.  Maybe a web browser extension or plug-in? (see Polaris Insights Chrome Extension for a utility that displays info about [mostly startup] web sites).  Maybe a tool that is completely context-sensitive (that is, only relevant menu items are displayed)?  Maybe something like this for mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, Android)?

I'd love to hear any ideas that you might have.

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