"Search is a very anxiety-ridden process — the moment you start thinking about search, you're anxious," says Found Chief Product Officer Vijay Sundaram. "We're really trying to break the assumption that desktop search is slow," adds CEO Stephen Brady. We're chatting about Found, their new free search app for the Mac, which blends together Spotlight-like local search with cloud search of online services like Gmail, Google Drive, and Dropbox. Unlike Spotlight, Found pops up a preview of the best match for your search immediately — the assumption being that you only need a quick look (or listen) at what you're searching for. "That extra 400ms it takes changes the experience," says Brady.

But of course, the most important part of Found is that it queries both online and offline sources (unlike Greplin, which comes to mind) to find the needle in your digital haystack. And the company plans to add many more services (like Evernote) in order to make Found truly all-encompassing.

Design / UI

The most important element of any search engine is how it displays results. Found starts by feeding you details in gray below each search result: search results inside your Google Drive account are accompanied by the name of the person who most recently edited each document, while results on your computer show up above file paths, and results from Gmail show you the subject of the mail message that contains a file. It's an intelligent and flexible system that enables Found to provide secondary information after each result, kind of like how Google displays a snippet of each site you've found after each search. Spotlight, on the other hand, only shows filenames.

Sundaram and Brady think also think Spotlight's top right corner location is dead wrong. "There's a very basic pattern you find in email clients and apps: meta information shows up on the left, while content shows up on the right," says Sundaram. In other words, Found search looks more like a mail client — type in a query and instantly see a list of results flanked by a preview pane just to the right of your results window. As you thumb through results using your arrow keys, a preview instantly pops up for each item. If you want to copy something or drag it to a menu bar tool like CloudApp, you can drag the icon next to any file — a feature Spotlight has had since OS X Lion launched. When you click and drag a file, the Found search window moves out of your way.


Where it started

Sundaram and Brady worked together for two years in Microsoft's stuffy Corporate Strategy Group dealing with "high level issues" surrounding the incoming cloud computing revolution. "Microsoft is in so many different places that looking at it from the top down gives you a perspective on the entire software industry," Brady said. "The genesis for what we're doing was that we were seeing different groups within Microsoft doing different things, but nobody was seeing the bigger picture." Sundaram added, "Now, your stuff is all over the place, and that's our launching point."

Brady and Sundaram concluded that there were two enormous problems to be dealt with: one, that people save their stuff in multiple cloud services like Dropbox, Google Docs, Evernote, and Exchange; and two, that people have multiple devices. "There's a multiplicity problem," Brady said. So instead of building a better personal data consumption device, the two decided to build a search tool that let devices like iPads access all of your stuff across devices and cloud services. That idea was premature: iOS wasn't yet open enough. "The iPad wants to suck in files from Dropbox and other cloud services, but you have to open the app to do it," Brady said. "It's a crude way of doing these things. Users should only see it as my stuff, no matter whether the stuff lives in Dropbox or Google Docs," Sundaram added.

Brady agrees enthusiastically. "You just have more stuff that's digital, and you need a way to cope with that volume. The only scalable way to do it is through search. That's why people have gone from having folders full of bookmarks to just using Google." So why build a local client for Mac? "Engagement in the Mac community around apps has always been a lot stronger, says Sundaram. "Our goal is building a product that people really care about."

Wrap-up

Found isn't perfect quite yet, but does make finding documents across multiple services and locations much simpler. And Sundaram and Brady are working to create improve the relevancy of Found's search results by measuring various signals like how frequently you modify files, how recently you created a document, and how many times you've opened a file. This technique is not fully implemented yet, but it's very similar to how online search engines like Google and Bing work, and it's interesting to envision how Found could use ideas from that realm to improve local search. On a day-to-day basis, you're generally not searching for something that's years old, and signals like these can help Found deliver search results that are more accurate in a way that's tough for users to quantify.

The team also hopes to make the jump to iPad next, though it's polling users on its site about which platform they want next. New services are coming too: Evernote soon, and at some point in the future business cloud storage apps like Box. And yes, Sundaram and Brady are considering full-text search, but isn't too crazy about the amount of irrelevant data that might push at users.

Although the Found team insists that its app is no Spotlight replacement, it inevitably feels like one. The only roadblock to a head-to-head showdown with Apple's system tool? You can't yet alter the hotkey combination used to bring up Found like you can with search bar tools like Alfred. "You could take over Command + Space, but we're not here to replace Spotlight, " says Brady. "We are going beyond what Spotlight was intended to do."