Microsoft has been keen to get me to take a look at a new experimental site launched to showcase the potential of its Silverlight technology. Tafiti, which apparently means 'do research' in Swahili, is the site in question. An exploration of two trends: search specialization and the Web 2.0 rich user experience. It is meant to help people use the Web for research that spans multiple queries and sessions, and does this by letting them visualize, store and share the results. Or at least that is the theory. In practice what you get is an undeniably visually attractive interface that uses Microsoft Silverlight, but a pretty poor search experience in conjunction with the Microsoft Live Search engine.
Installing the Silverlight engine is not problematical, it is only a 6Mb download, unless you happen to be running Linux in which case you cannot play: this search game is for Windows XP/Vista and Mac OS X users only. It does, however, seem to work well with most browser clients including IE 6/7, Firefox 2 and Safari 2. Surprisingly though, not Safari 3 or Opera. Once installed, however, the experience is nothing short of irritating.
If you want to perform a quick search and get the most useful results presented with minimum fuss, Tafiti is not for you. The interface sure looks pretty enough, and the drag-and-drop saved search results thing is neat.
Which search engine do you use? The answer is probably Google, and not some Adobe Flash powered thing of beauty. Why do you use Google? The answer is certainly because it delivers the results you want, when you want them, and without fuss. Why should Silverlight succeed where Flash has failed, that would appear to be the question Microsoft must answer when it comes to search at least.
What Tafiti appears to be trying to achieve is a search system that actually looks like the ones you see in Hollywood movies. In this regard some might say it has succeeded. But slick (well pretty slow if truth be told) animations and a search box that has the appearance of a piece of old paper do not a great search engine make. And don't even get me started on the 3D tree format option for search results.
Microsoft will argue that it is not meant to be a serious contender in the search space, it is just a showcase for Silverlight. To which the response has to be 'bad choice' because the overwhelming memory users will take away from their single visit to the site, and I fail to see why anyone would go back more than once, is likely to be of an overall negative experience. In the original announcement Microsoft said "the result is a search experience unlike anything you've seen before" and you know what, I really cannot argue with that…