MarkL on the AJAX Search API

August 02, 2006

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Chris saw this email go by on an internal thread and thought it'd be great to re-post here; it's a note from Mark Lucovsky to James Atkinson (of phpBB), regarding the recently-released AJAX Search API:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Mark Lucovsky
Subject: Re: Howdy from Google.
To: James Atkinson
Cc: Chris DiBona


Thanks for getting back to me.

I am not sure if you have seen our latest api? Documentation and samples are at

Its a classic mashup API that lets you easily add search to your site, but we have done this with a twist... We make it VERY VERY easy to remember or "clip" a search result onto your page.

Why did we do this?

We observed countless interactions in email and message boards where a question is being posed, e.g., "Does anyone know of a good Sushi place in Santa Barbara?", or, "What kind of fancy new camera where you using at the game the other day?", or, "I am thinking of putting Campy Compact Cranks on my bike. Do you think this is a good idea?", or, "We just stayed at The St. Francis in San Francico and had a great time?"

Often times, the most accurate way to answer or add value to these discussions is with a search result. When responding to the Sushi question, a Google Local search result provides the name of the restaurant, the address, its phone number, as well as a link to the landing page on Google Maps. The result also contains the lat/lng coordinates so that if you have a map available, plotting the result on a map is trivial.

When developing the initial mockups and ideas for this API we built a very powerful demonstration, based on phpBB. What I did was change phpBB to include our little search control and made it possible to include search results into a post.

The changes to enable this were trivial... All I had to do was change the subSilver/overall_header.tpl to include our stylesheet, and then subsilver/posting_body.tpl to fire our control and process clip events, and serialize the clipped content on submit.

I have included two screen shots. The first is a reply to a post about Sushi places near Google. Note that the reply contains to local search results.

Clicking on the title brings you to a Google landing page.

Obviously, I could have left phpBB, looked up the Akane in Google Local, futzed around a little to get local to produce a url, and then paste the URL into the response. This, in my opinion, represents, "The Old Way"... something that only the tech savvy can master. In the real world, cut/paste, mastering multiple windows, are not skills that we can or should take for granted.

With our search control, seamlessly integrated into phpBB, I type "Akane" into a search box, then click the "copy" button. The resulting post content content is shown in the first attachment.

The second screenshot shows the editing experience. I took 300px to the right of the compose form and added in our search control. Its very simple to use and fits in very nicely with the rest of your app.

When I show this demo to people, they all instantly "got it" and understood how much more valuable message board interaction could be when search results are a click away. Now granted, this isn't something that everyone would use in every single post, BUT I think everyone who saw this felt that this is the kind of thing that they would definitely use once a day in either an email, blogging, or message board environment.

I had never seen the phpBB code before. I simply unzipped it, set up a database, and within an hour, had found the three or four touch points that I had to edit in order to enhance it with this new capability. I think it dropped in very easily and naturally. It would be very cool to see this out in the wild, and I would be more than willing to help you guys get up and running, get started, whatever you need.

Let me know what you think.