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Pearltrees: A Novel Approach to Web

Posted by Sravan | April 22, 2009 .

Today, access to content on the Internet is largely dependent on search algorithms or aggregation at social sites. This dependency gave rise to SEO and related ways of promoting content. Ergo, even though everyone on the Internet has the tools required to create all kinds of content, more or less, many feel obliged to choose their content and form keeping the current limited ways of content access in mind. Pealtrees seeks to mend it through a novel approach to web.

Using Pearltrees one can collect web navigations; represent them in the form of maps; modify and rearrange them to create unique desired versions; share, combine, compare and discuss trees with others’; and navigate the Internet from edition to edition, following the maps of interests and creations of the community. As I understand, this doesn’t solve the existing problem but explores an alternative approach.

Pearltrees is a very novel concept and today we have Ariel Sommeria-klein with us to talk about it. Come, say ‘hi’ to Ariel.

S. Please introduce yourselves.
A. Hi. I’m Ariel Sommeria-klein, developer, blogger, dreamer and saxophone player. I contribute to some open source Flash projects and I’m a freelancer, but Pearltrees has become my main occupation since last summer. Pearltrees is a fresh startup, we opened to the public at the end of February. We’re 9 people half of which are technical, half of which are everything else. We’re based in Paris, which is far away from the valley but nice to hang out. And on behalf of the Pearltrees team, thanks for having us!


pearl background Pearltrees: A Novel Approach to Web  Pearltrees: A Novel Approach to Web maskTree Pearltrees: A Novel Approach to Web border Pearltrees: A Novel Approach to Web

S. Pearltrees is a large complex project. Could you give an overview, so that a developer-user might have a high-level understanding of the available sets of features and the challenges in creating them?
A. For your readers I guess I should speak mostly about the Flex client. One part is the map view, where you can inspect and manipulate your map of web pages. The other is the map player where you can view the pages recorded in the map. Around these two parts are built many tools to help navigation, to inspect the content, to take notes, etc. There many individual challenges, but I think the greatest challenge is to articulate the different elements into a coherent whole. Pearltrees has three benefits, which really feed off each other. With Pearltrees you can:

organize your web
guide your friends through the web
broaden your web horizons

I can tell you that to fit all that together seamlessly is a lot of work, and that we’re not done yet.

S. Recording Pearltrees is an essential feature. Any reasons why Firefox has been chosen as the browser through which it can be done? How are your plans of extending it to other browsers?
A. If you look at browser statistics, the 2 main browsers out there are Firefox and Internet Explorer. We started out with Firefox because it’s really open to new plugins – it is their competitive advantage –  and Firefox users are used to installing plugins. Then there’s Internet Explorer where there isn’t much of a plugin culture or ecosystem, but the fact is that a lot of people are stuck with it or don’t want to change. Still, we’re working hard on making a IE plugin. We are not focused on others browsers, since the plugin is not the only way to build maps within Pearltrees, you can also “pearl” the URL in which you are interested in or get pearls from other accounts while browsing on others accounts. Honestly we’d like to do away with the plugin altogether, but there are some things at the moment that we can’t get done otherwise.
S: I heard a rumor that the IE 8.1 or some such major version is going to be able to port all Firefox plugins. I’m yet to find any authenticity in that though. Let us hope IE cleans up.

S. What is your individual role(s) in this project?
A. The founders realized that Pearltrees is an ambitious project, and that they needed an innovative design to fit the ambition. After digging around they found that Flash/Flex was the best way to go, so they brought me in. So I guess I could say I’m the resident Flex head. I develop of course, but I also bring in ideas from the community, advise on design choices from a technical point of view, etc.

S. Any design and implementation challenges within the project that the Flex community may be interested in?
A. Maps containing more maps is pretty abstract, and we’ve spent a lot of time and energy on making their representation and manipulation as intuitive as possible. Graphically representing graphs is nothing new, I think where we have really innovated is on the structural representation and on the different ways you can manipulate the structure. The other challenge that I find interesting and that is still giving us a hard time is getting the map player to work well with all the websites that are represented in Pearltrees.

S. While content access on Pearltrees is through the community, how about specific content discovery? Suppose I want to find something, say, about Buddhism and Jainism. Is there a way to find it through Pearltrees. Sorry, my mind is wired to search and so am inevitably thinking along those lines.
A. We don’t have anything yet, but we’re working on getting Pearltrees to work with external search engines. It’s an interesting challenge as it’s a full Flash app, somewhere where search engines don’t traditionally go. We feel that search engines are good at this, better than we could ever be, so we should work with them.

S. What more can we expect from Pearltrees in the future?
A. Through our growing community we’ve proved that there we address a real need. However a lot of our feedback from newcomers is along the lines of “wow that looks cool, but I don’t get it”. So we’re looking to streamline things and make the experience more intuitive. Fundamentally I think most of the bricks are in place, we just have to get everything sorted out and polished. I’m looking forward to making an AIR app for Pearltrees too, but that’s in the indefinite future.
S. I am one of those newcomers and am avidly waiting for that indefinite future. Below is how complex my first Pearl was. :)

Pearltrees

S. What is the top item on your Flex wish list now?
A. I don’t have a specific wish list, I just have a few aspects in Flex that make me rant. One is the bloat of the library, another is that I get the impression that little to no attention is spent by the Flex team on saving bandwidth.
S. Visit Ariel’s blog for his rants and ramblings about Flex among many other things.

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