I think you may know the feeling of pure surprise and joy when you discover a new thing on the web. For those of us who have been around the web since before Netscape introduced the masses to the visual Internet, being impressed is a fleeting and rare opportunity. Most Saturday and Sunday mornings we have tea and coffee, listen to music, and watch the children play … I usually pull out my laptop and hit the New York Times site (BTW, thanks for making Times Select free!) to see what is going on in the news. This morning I was reading an article about Al Gore and the speculation of him running for president after winning the Nobel Peace Prize when I just started clicking and double clicking randomly on the page — I do that sometimes involuntarily when I am reading. To my surprise and joy something new happened when I double clicked a word — a small window popped open with the word defined. It wasn’t a link, it was just text on screen. I actually called my wife over and she didn’t even make fun of me. Innovation in small packages make me happy. From what I can tell it only works in FireFox, but go give it a try!
Looks like they have partners with a few different services/tools/sites/databases to power it all. One of them is WordNet. WordNet is a tool set built and patented by Princeton University. It is an amazing little piece of technology. Looks like the other two are The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and Answers.com.
I haven’t done any more investigation, I just wanted to capture my thoughts on it, but I am wondering how it would fit into our Blogs at Penn State project — imagine any term someone writes in their blog being automatically linked to an only database of definitions — no linking by the author required. It fits into the learning landscape and so many ways. What I like is how invisible it is to users and authors — double click and knowledge is gained. I love surprises.