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Which Search Engine Has the Most Human Intervention?

January 30, 2007

The premise of Bessed is that the best search results are generated from a real person doing critical thinking about what a searcher would most want to see for a given search. In general, where appropriate, we feel a searcher would like a number of different types of sites put together in one quick yet complete package. Therefore, where appropriate, we try to offer in our top links these type of sites: an overview site, a link or two of recent news on the topic/keyword, recent blog posts, seminal historical events, videos of interest, photographs. Our thought is that if you are researching a topic, you could use our first 10 or so links and get a pretty complete picture.

In discovering sites, we obviously use the major search engines in addition to suggestions from site visitors. In doing so, I’m always interested to see which search engine I feel spends the most time manipulating results with the help of human editors.

While Google is the most accurate for the most searches, in my experience Ask does the best job of providing the greatest variety of sites that might satisfy a searcher’s desires. I have to believe that Ask uses a good number of humans in massaging search results, at least for more common searches. It’s amazing how good Ask’s results can sometimes be—and then even more amazing how devoid of links Ask can be at other times. The fact that their results for common searches are usually so good, while their results for more obscure searches can be so bad, is evidence to me that it’s not a purely robot-based operation like Google. (Google may do a bit of human intervention, but I think they’re much more focused on their algorithms.)

For example, Ask is the best at getting news headlines into their search results. Do a search on sports teams or politicians in the news, and Ask has jumped on it much quicker than Google. You might track it down via Google News, but one of Google’s weaknesses as an engine is that it takes longer to get newsworthy items into its main index and it often doesn’t give them much weight—unless, of course, they’ve been linked to a lot. But even with bloggers linking like crazy, a news item that would be of interest to a searcher often ends up nowhere in Google, while Ask will often pick it up. This again makes me believe that there is an editorial team at Ask doing some thinking about this stuff.

I could be wrong. It might just be that Ask gives a certain number of news sites high ratings in its algorithm and if they have a story that pertains to search term, it shows up. But Ask has shown me enough variety in search results and other idiosyncracies— for example, a search for Bill Gates brings up a 1994 Playboy interview in which Gates discusses the impending “information highway”—that it seems clear someone smarter than a computer is thinking about this stuff. Or maybe they’ve perfected artificial intelligence, and if they can get their robot working a little faster they might just be able to challenge Google.

I think Ask.com is the second-best search engine out there now, and wouldn’t be surprised if they challenge for the #2 spot in searches conducted over the next 5 years or so.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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