and Search Engines
the beginning, we've tried to catalog and organize the Web - hardly an
easy task when you consider the phenomenal rate at which the Internet
have we succeeded? Unfortunately for the most part the answer is probably
a resounding no. With the exception of standouts like Google,
Yahoo and the Open
Directory Project using most search engines and directories
is a frustrating experience, one which causes plenty of people to simply
this seems to be changing, as companies like Google bring more powerful
search algorithms to bear on the problem.
Best of Class: Search Engine - Google
Developed by researchers Larry Page and Sergey Brin at
Stanford University, Google has impressed with results far more accurate
than first-generation search engines. A simple, straightforward interface
is a welcome relief from the hectic, increasingly commercial services
offered by competitors.
In early 2000 Yahoo dropped well-regarded Inktomi as its search engine
provider in favor of Google, as good a sign as any that this search engine
is coming into it's own.
things like the theory behind search engines interest you, Page and Brin's
1998 outline for the project is archived in full at the Stanford
relatively high accuracy
minuses: none that we can think of.
The San Francisco Chronicle ran a good story on the challenges
Google faces in the future. Read it here.
to Best of Class [Directory] - Yahoo
Its easy to
forget that when Yahoo isn't offering you free e-mail, streaming stock
quotes, point and click e-commerce and a thousand other services it is
also, just as it was in the beginning, a web directory. And a very useful
web directory at that. Unrivaled
in size and in general all around comprehensiveness, Yahoo operates a
international network of directories, which taken together, are as close
a thing as we have to an accurate map of cyberspace.
A dedicated team of editors does an excellent job of maintaining Yahoo's
system of categories, a fact that becomes readily apparent if you compare
the site's listings with competitors like Looksmart
and About.com. For an opposing viewpoint read last
year's review. Have we learned anything since then?
maybe a little bit...
minuses: Bigness. Annoying ez-click branding.
Although it could easily be argued that this search tool isn't really
a search engine at all, in the sense that most search engines index the
entire web or large portions of it, NewsSearch.userland
is still a valuable addition to your arsenal of web power tools. Described
by its creators as a search engine with an editorial focus, Newssearch
combs a tightly focused group of cool meta resources and weblogs including
, Tomalak's Realm and
for links to news stories at the major news sites and smaller web sites.
you're interested in a particular story in the news, like say napster
or the presidential election, a search here will probably turn up dozens
of links to important stories, all pretty tightly controlled for quality
- you'll almost never follow a link here to pr drivel or mush. You'll
also be exposed to dozens if not hundreds of smaller sites it would have
taken you a long time to find otherwise. Unfortunately, only links through
1999 are archived, although hopefully that will change.
the human factor filtered, editorially-focused search blows away many
advertising driven news sites.
limited archives - expired links
bigger better? AltaVista
An early leader among the major search engines, AltaVista has clearly
lost major ground in the past few years. If you have good eyes and plenty
of time to kill you may want to try making the switch, because when it
comes down to sheer numbers - AltaVista is the clear winner.
Until quite recently this search engine had more web pages indexed than
any other, the reason AltaVista routinely returns more results than other
search engines. Unfortunately
this vast ocean of data makes using AltaVista efficiently very difficult,
if not impossible. In 2000 Altavista announced it would begin including
paid placements in it's search results.
Now used primarily by professional researchers in business and academia
- this search engine does a remarkably good job of turning up articles
in magazines and other publications. Unfortunately, you'll have to pay
to download most of the articles you find here.
good news is much of the material is worth it. On the other hand, if you
can afford to pay these rates, you can probably afford Lexis-Nexis.
other things - Inktomi
Originally a pure search engine company, Inktomi's business has grown
rapidly in other directions to the point where the search side represents
only a fraction of the company's business. Inktomi's network management
software, which allows web sites to ease bandwidth problems by caching
frequently accessed content, has became the main focus here.
you wonder how they'd do if they concentrated on that little search engine.
in 2000 - DirectHit.com
Relevance-based searching promised to deliver more meaningful
search results by indexing web site popularity. And that's exactly what
DirectHit was claiming last year, when this search engine first started
DirectHit's performance has not yet lived up to its creators claims. Under
new management following the company's acquisition by AskJeeves, DirectHit
has become much more visible but hardly more accurate.
results DirectHit returns are supposed to be more useful because they
are indexed by popularity. Unfortunately, it turns out popularity may
have little to do with the quality of search engine results. Unrelated
and low-quality results seem to be the norm here. Stick with Google.
web site though.
Born Loser: Askjeeves
Everybody has to have a gimmick, the old saying goes. AskJeeves has two.
The company's British butler mascot, may be the most recognized corporate
mascot since Joe Camel. The natural language search queries AskJeeves
offers are an obvious commercial draw, even if their effectiveness is
sometimes open to question.
many people natural language queries like "where can I buy seedless
grapes in San Jose?" are more...well..*natural* than the complicated
Boolean phrases other search engines require, one reason this search engine
AskJeeves has had as much success as anybody forging alliances with content
providers and web retailers, meaning you're likely to run into the little
cartoon butler frequently in your web travels.
ClueTrain Manifesto author David Weinberg writes "I don't know what
AskJeeves is doing, but I know I don't like it."
pluses: natural language queries.
minuses: paid placements. limited scope. jeeves.
The first search engine to go completely commercial, Goto has both
won fans and provoked screams of outrage from purists. It has also inspired
imitators like Mama.com.
worth noting, however, that most of the fans work for Goto's cash-strapped
search engine rivals. The company charges advertisers a flat fee for ever
surfer who clicks on a link. Thankfully, (for the time being at least)
Goto makes no pretense of hiding this fact from visitors. Results clearly
indicate the rate an advertiser will pay if you click on a link.
as more than one critic has commented, if you're interested in studying
the state of advertising on the Net or if you're a site owner with deep
enough pockets to pay for the traffic Goto seems to be able to come
A little less useful if you're searching for meaningful content.
Same idea. Different advertisers.
It is unclear exactly what's going behind closed doors at looksmart.
One minute they're a directory, the next they're not.
directories go, Looksmart is a relatively useful resource, although nobody
in their right mind would dare to compare the company's offerings with
either Yahoo or the Open Directory Project.
is a perception that this is a company that has lost both considerable
momentum and direction, a company that has become preoccupied with finding
new ways to generate revenue. Visit Looksmart and you'll find plenty of
innovation - most of it aimed at finding ways to squeeze more money out
was a time when Looksmart was an up-and comer.
time has apparently passed.
LookSmart recently changed it's slogan to "The Quality Web Directory."
A surefire sign that the directory's editorial staff may finally have
been overrun by the marketing department.
For a revealing look inside the company from the point of view of some
of the company's disgruntled employees click here
IT, an Australian web site, also ran a good
piece on the company's problems.
site formerly known as the Mining Company changed names last year, switching
to the focus group-approved and infinitely hipper about.com.
takes what seems to be a more human and personal approach to organizing
and collating the web than many of the other directories. Each topic the
site covers is assigned to an expert guide responsible for that section.
The guide pulls together relevant links and organizes the section using
templates provided by the company. The results are fairly predictable.
About.com is uneven. Some categories are strong and others are weak, depending
on the amount of effort the guide responsible feels inclined to put in.
Yet, on the whole, there is something about the human quality here that
makes About.com more pleasurable to browse than the endless maze of hierarchies
Character, more than anything else, is the trait that most directories
and search engines lack - the missing element that makes surfing many
sites about as stimulating as reading a phone book. You'll find it here
- in varying degrees.
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