Kosmix.com – Table of Contents for the Web

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From kosmix.com video

My roots are in books. I ran a chain of retail bookstores in the ’80’s, became a buyer at a wholesaler responsible for making fiction and non-fiction merchandising decisions for dozens of national chains, and eventually evolved to publishing. As the web emerged one of the obvious shortcomings I observed was when you landed on a home page you had no idea what was behind it. How much content was on that site? How valuable would it be? With a book you can hold it, touch it, and thumb its pages to gauge the quality of information or entertainment value. It has a table of contents and an index. Sites simply try to lure you in.

Web sites have their navigation and labeling and even the blurb about what the site is trying to do, but this frontier was very new and frequently in the hands of almost anyone with a computer and internet connection. In that rests the web’s strength and weakness. Fast forward to today. The web has come so far. 2.0 is here and although I won’t say it is reaching maturity, it is growing up pretty darn fast. Remember, I’m used to the printed word which stretches back to the 1400’s.

But search changed everything. Correction, Google changed everything with search and some may have thought the rest was history. Think again. I have been spending some time with kosmix.com over the past few days and I’ve got to say that it has serious potential.

The kosmix.com official promise is “The web organized for you.” It’s a big promise, and maybe not too far off, which in a way makes me cringe because the web is so full of gossip and mainstream; media soft-brained vox populi… (sorry, I’ll get back on topic). After pressing return you are greeted with a simple statement, “What’s happening on the web: March 16, 2009” along with a very nicely designed page stuffed full of information, but not overwhelming to scan. They have a search field at the top like Google, however you are immediately drawn into the page. The section headings down the power aisle are:

  • Top News
  • Popular Entertainment
  • Just for laughs
  • Images of the Day
  • Daily Deals

Each one of these sections has a tab structure that allows the user to quickly scan the top sites in each category. Here is the Popular Entertainment tab line, covering network television in Hulu, the user generated content of YouTube and Vimeo and music from Rhapsody.

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Conent navigation example

On the right hand stack they port in these modules.

  • Hot in the Kosmos
  • Trending Topics – Taken from twitter.com
  • Top Links on Twitter – Published by twitturly.com
  • Hot Search Trends – From google.com
  • Lucky Dip – Celebrity watch from people.com
  • An untitled accordion navigation section
  • Feeling Browsy? – Kosmos created categories

This is where kosmix.com becomes a giant collection of social media, and distinguishes itself from Google. Without a doubt, “Hot in the Kosmos” is the most interesting section. When you click on any of the topics listed there you are whisked to a wonderfully structured page that is at once highly relevant, broad reaching and unexpected. Here is how they describe the content behind this section.

The Kosmos brings you hot topics by looking at the latest stories on the web. To put it another way, these topics are machine created and not editorially selected. Explore and enjoy!

When you submit a query they tell you they are “building your guide” vs. “returning results” (1-10 of about 366,000,000). They organize the information in the following manner.

  • At a Glance
  • Topic Highlight
  • Web Search
  • News and Blogs
  • Videos
  • Audio
  • Conversations
  • Reference

Very thorough approach and it allows the user to select how they want to consume the information. This is a partial screen shot from the “Hot in the Kosmos” page created after clicking on the link Ben Bernanke. If you don’t see anything in this container of the home page you are interested in, you can always enter your own search from that section. Depending on what you enter, you could get back additional information, such as maps.

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Sample guide page from Hot in the Kosmos

By the way, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a site say they were “beta-ish” and in “alpha” at the same time. Clearly they are working on all sections at once and labeling it appropriately. Love the transparency and the understanding the need to set expectations for the user.

So this is a long way to arrive at support for the title of this post. Kosmix.com is indeed a table of contents for the web. It is the best attempt so far at showing me what’s on the web without having to navigate through it. You can drag components within the two columns up an down to personalize it, but for some reason, not across the stacks. You can’t shrink the size of the modules either, which is annoying at times. I don’t need to see the deal of the day from woot.com that big in the browser window. The “Feeling Browsy” section didn’t seem to work at all, which was a disappointment. But I love where they’re going, and I’ll be watching with interest and hope as they evolve this ambitious and potentially important concept. From a book guy turned web enthusiast, I say well done.

4 comments

  1. Steve,

    This is a great post. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the “table of contents” positioning applied to us, so thanks for articulating that.

    I’m one of the PMs at Kosmix and left you an @ message on Twitter with other Kosmixers who are on Twitter. You’ve given us great feedback – the homepage customization you refer to was built by @remotezygote (on Twitter), I’m sure he’d appreciate hearing directly from you as well. That feature is very much hot off the press (just last week!) so look for more coolness in the weeks ahead.

  2. Steve,

    You might enjoy the book “Everything Is Miscellaneous” which explores the opposite of this approach – the abandonment of structured information in exchange for a faceted and open ended system of organization.

    I know that I’ve worked on a few projects over the last 15 years that attempted what Kosmix is trying here, and thus far, with the sole exception of a very narrow industry news site, it’s proven to be an impossible task.

    You may also like dmoz.org, which is actually at the heart of many web directory services.

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