Archive for the ‘Search Tools’ Category

h1

Not Really Getting Wikia Search

January 7, 2008

As a participant in the human-powered search field, I’ve been very interested to see what Jimmy Wales and his for-profit Wikia Search would add to the mix. Presumably the legend of Wikipedia would have something new and exciting for us as he attempts to “fix” search. Well, giving us results 11-20 on the same page as the first 10 results is maybe a little exciting. Otherwise, I don’t get it.

Maybe it’s not fair to judge a project that begs for human participation but launches with almost none. After all, Wales has said that when Wikipedia launched, the “Africa” page’s content consisted of the line “Africa is a continent.” On the other hand, Wikipedia launched with no eyes on it; not so for Wikia Search. For such a high-profile launch, this should have been left to bake a while longer so people could get a better idea of the vision.

As it is, you get poor results coupled with empty “mini-articles” and the opportunity to use social features like photos, profiles, “friends”, etc. Not exactly cutting edge, and personally I still don’t get why anyone thinks people want social features baked into their search engine. While we offer commenting on Bessed, we have no mechanism for people to open accounts and share among each other because we can’t see the purpose in it, or at least we don’t think people will use it to any extent. It seems to make more sense for a Facebook or Myspace to start a search engine than it does to start a new search engine and then try to add the social features. But then again I don’t have a lot of time to make “friends” on the Web, so maybe I’m not representative of others’ feelings about this.

It will be interesting to see what kind of participation level Wikia will get, whether the Wikipedia “magic” will rub off on a project that has a very different purpose. Of course, Wikipedia has been taking its lumps lately for becoming an insider’s kingdom, but I’m sure Jimmy Wales would be happy to have such a problem with Search Wikia. Better to have a smaller, more arrogant group snatch the keys than to have no one be interested at all.

Time will tell, but the initial take is that rushing to meet a deadline for getting Search Wikia off the ground has left it open to easy criticism.

UPDATE: Not getting the love from TechCrunch, either. I would add that I’ve been on the mailing list for Wikia and this morning Michael Arrington accused Wales of giving the New York Times permission to publish its review of Search Wikia while asking all other media to hold off. Wales denied the permission was given and said NYT jumped the gun.)

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.

h1

Where is Search Broken?

August 23, 2007

I wrote a guest post on AltSearchEngines.com yesterday asking the question “Where is Search Broken?” Please stop by, give it a read and offer your thoughts.

h1

Bessed Search Plugin for Firefox

August 22, 2007

Many thanks to Jeremy Weiss of Blue Phoenix Consulting, who created this Firefox plugin that lets you search Bessed straight from your browser’s navigation bar. It’s easy as pie to add—just click the link and it’s ready for use.

h1

Bessed, Mahalo and Human-Powered Search

July 18, 2007

I’ve been asked about it several times, but have been tardy in writing about Mahalo, the new human-powered search engine that Jason Calacanis is spearheading. I did get a chance to talk about it a bit with the New York Times‘ Randall Stross, who wrote this piece on Bessed, Mahalo and other search competitors a few weeks back.

I’m grateful to Stross for including Bessed in his piece, as my initial fear about Mahalo was that people would think that Calacanis had thought this up all on his own, and had thought of it first, when in fact Bessed was launched in October of 2006, long before Mahalo. I was afraid people would think that we were the copycats.

To his credit, Stross did his homework. He realized that Bessed had launched this concept of a “human-powered search engine” before Calacanis came out beating his chest and talking up the VC money he has backing him up.

I’m not upset about Mahalo launching almost a carbon copy of what Bessed is doing—or, as a friend e-mailed to me, “Dude, they stole your idea!” (Although it was a litte disheartening to see them tout themselves as the “first human-powered search engine.”) That’s the nature of competition. Frankly, I’m jealous of the money Calacanis has behind Mahalo. It will be interesting to see what it gets them.

However, there are some differences between Mahalo’s game plan and that of Bessed, and I think those differences are what will ultimately doom Mahalo, or at the very least force it to change course from it’s currently-stated plan. I’m also afraid Mahalo might kill the idea that human-powered search can work, because its current offering doesn’t offer a ton of value. And if that happens, it could hurt Bessed over the long run. So, while I would not be unhappy to see Mahalo fail, how it fails matters to me 🙂

First, here’s what is good about Mahalo. (Generally it’s the same as what I think is good about Bessed.) Mahalo is having human editors find results, which is eliminating spam from its results. The site looks attractive. It’s allowing visitors to suggest new sites to add. And I think it offers good results for the topics it’s covering.

But Mahalo makes one big mistake. It is attempting to create results for only the most searched-for terms. The problem is, most people are perfectly happy with Google results for the more common searches. They aren’t looking for an alternative. Where Google and other engines often fall flat and and are susceptible to spam is in the “long tail” of searches—searches for specific people, products, facts, etc. These are the searches in which searchers come away dissatisfed and are open to an alternative that can solve their problem and save them time.

I don’t know if any human-powered effort can adequately cover the millions of potential searches that take place each day, but by simply ignoring them Mahalo has no compelling reason to exist. It does not solve a searcher’s problem, so beyond what Calacanis can drum up traffic-wise based on his own personal celebrity, it will fall flat.

Our goal with Bessed is to fill the holes in the long tail, sifting out the junk on those specific searches that so often are maddening—when you find one site selling the same thing on four different domains or you are lured to a site on false pretenses because the site has pasted your keyword (and a hundred others) on a page that is completely irrelevant. Those searches drive you crazy, and Google’s algorithm, which puts so much stock in the links between sites, has a hard time sifting the junk because there are so few links between sites in the long tail, thus making it hard to give any of the pages credibility over others. This is where the humans can and should be; this is where we can make a difference.

This doesn’t mean Bessed will ignore the “short tail,” but it means we know that we can create more value in attacking searches that robots have not yet mastered. If I had Calacanis’ money, this is where I would be spending it. Maybe he’d like to give it to us?

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.

h1

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.

h1

SeenOn to Rain on Like.com’s Parade?

November 16, 2006

Like.com got a ton, just a ton, of attention last week when it debuted its new site that allows you to find products like those you may have seen in photos of celebrities or other people in magazines, news photos, etc. (See Like.com CEO Munjal Shah’s blog for a sample of the coverage the site got from blogging’s A-List.) It’s a cool idea—see something that a star is wearing and find items that match it it, such as shoes similar to those that you just saw Kate Moss wearing, etc.

To prove that good ideas seem to bubble up at the same time, I saw a Fast Company blog post about SeenOn, which doesn’t show you products that are “like” those you’ve seen on TV, in movies, etc., but instead you get the actual products you did see. It launched today.

From Fast Company:

Through partnerships with ABC Entertainment, NBC Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, CBS Paramount Television, E!, and Martha Stewart Omnimedia, SeenOn connects consumers with products seen on TV.

For example, if one evening you see one of the ladies from Wisteria Lane wearing something you admire you can read about it on the site. From the SeenON blog:

If you caught last night’s episode of Desperate Housewives then surely you didn’t miss Gabrielle in her undies. The revealing set was from the “Fifi” line of notoriously sexy lingerie house, Agent Provocateur.

Designers and stylists from programs such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Desperate Housewives” will provide SeenON with information about the wardrobes, housewares, and sets shown on their programs. Users can search for products by show, movie, actor, or product type. The site directs users to websites where they can purchase the products mentioned. In addition, the site will offer shop-able video content that the company is calling Shopisodes.

I have seen almost no coverage of SeenOn, probably because Like.com has more of the “Web 2.0” cachet and also because its founder has plenty of contacts in the blogosphere. In this case, it’s the outsider offering “like” products that gets the attention, while the insiders that can offer the real thing are largely ignored.

Is SeenOn a good or bad thing for Like.com? It’s hard to say. On the surface, SeenOn seems to have the advantage. It’s backed by the heavy hitters that actually make the shows that people want to buy the goods from. And it’s the real thing, not an approximation of what the actors are wearing on a TV episode or in a movie. If you are a viewer that just luuuuvs what you saw Eva Longoria wearing on Desperate Housewives, you are likely to go to this site and buy it up.

So, does this cook Like.com’s goose?

No, but it does make their job a bit harder.

I should start by saying that Like.com is offering something more sophisticated than SeenOn, even though it’s not guaranteeing that it can show you the exact product you might see Paris Hilton wearing. Because Like.com gives you the option to see similar products and then do some tweaking to find something that fits your needs a little better. So, if you dig a certain style of shoes you saw Halle Berry wearing but you know you’d never wear a heel that high, you can do a little adjusting on Like.com’s sliding scale and get shoes that keep the style but get rid of the things you don’t quite like, or maybe add something you do like. This is the promise at least; whether Like can deliver on this is in question.

If I understand correctly, Like.com is also planning to eventually let you give it a picture and it will use some kind of smart technology to figure out what products are similar to what’s in the picture. In that case, you could take some paparazzi shot of Jennifer Aniston and find some handbags close to that which she used to beat the photographer over the head with. (Right now Like is only offering its own pictures and letting you home in on the products it has pre-selected.) This will be very cool, provided again that Like.com can deliver on its promise.

The other part of the equation is whether having SeenOn on the scene will actually call more attention to Like.com. It’s often said that competition can actually raise the profile of all the competitors instead of hurting any of them. For example, in the future, journalists could easily write things like “with the proliferation of dress-like-the-stars sites like Seen On and Like.com, it’s becoming harder and harder for divas to stand out from the crowd.” See what’s going on there? It’s as if the competition created a trend, where if there’s only a single player it’s harder to say whether it really signifies anything and whether it’s worth writing about. So, from this perspective, Like.com could benefit from being lumped in with a site that has the backing of major entertainment heavyweights.

Or not. But it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

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. 

h1

Reporting the News in a New Way

October 24, 2006

My biggest concern in creating Bessed (other than money, time and resources) has been to differentiate it from what other search services offer.

We can not compete with the major search engines on their turf. We’ll never be able to supply the phone number of your local pizza place in every city of the United States. There is an inherent limitation to using human editors.

We can easily become the best Web directory, but that’s a short hurdle. It will take time, but I have no doubt Bessed will outshine the Yahoo Directory and the Open Directory over the long haul.

But that’s not enough. To be more than a small, marginally profitable entity, we have to offer something no one else is offering. To do so, I’ve looked at Wikipedia for inspiration. Bessed is very different from Wikipedia, but we can learn from it in building our site.

People love Wikipedia because it’s one of the few places online you can go to get a complete overview on a topic. Want to know about the magician David Copperfield? (Just pulling a name out of the air here, couldn’t say where it came from.) Wikipedia will tell you where David Copperfield was born, his life history and a few other interesting tidbits. Sure, the nature of Wikipedia means that someone could come in and write that Copperfield sleeps with 75 snakes each night, but in general you’re going to get pretty accurate information from the site. And no one other site is as thorough on so many topics.

What does Bessed do to similarly differentiate itself? We first must understand that to be a different kind of search service it won’t be enough to just offer a bunch of links. Instead, we have to paint a picture on each search results page. Someone should be able to come in and within the first dozen links have a great overview of a topic. Then, if they want to delve further, they can use the links further down the page. In the end, they should feel like they got everything they needed in the shortest amount of time possible.

No search engine or directory does an adequate job of this. Search engines use an algorithm that often gives you the almost identical content from 10 different competing sites, forcing you to keep looking and looking to get a clear picture of a topic you’re researching. Web directories give you a bunch of static links listed alphabetically and tell you to do with them what you will. Search engines aren’t ideal, directories aren’t even close.

Bessed has the opportunity to paint that picture. As an example, see our World Series 2006 results. We start with the official site of the World Series from Major Leage Baseball, but then the links are sort of a backward-looking view at the Series as it progresses. Right now that means that you’re getting Game 2 highlight links, including multiple links from news organizations and blogs about the controversy over whether Detroit Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers was using an illegal substance to get a leg up on the Cardinals. Further down are select links on Game 1, further down from there are links to articles that previewed the Series. Interspersed among those links are links to commentary on the Series overall. By the time the Series is over, a visitor will be able to come in and quickly find just about everything he or she would want to know about this World Series, from the big picture to the game-by-game highlights to the opinions of both journalists and fans who followed the event.

We’re not creating content, but by artfully putting the story together through the use of timely, relevant links, it becomes a comprehensive look at the many aspects of this World Series.

Our goal is to do this as much as possible, to become the go-to site for anyone who wants a well-crafted overview of an event, person, subject, etc. Some topics will lend themselves to this better than others. The World Series has more depth than the subject of air compressors, unless you’re really, really into air compressors.

If we can become the go-to site for the best links on topics people are looking to really dive into, we will also get the less deep searches as well, and that’s what will ultimately drive our success.

I mentioned to someone not long ago that what Bessed is doing is what a smart newspaper would do. A smart newspaper would continue to report stories, but backfill those stories with links to other newspapers, blogs, sites of interest that provide an overview of the subject being reported on—each story offers the reader a chance to get the big picture. No one does this because they don’t want to give up the eyeballs. (To be fair, some newspapers have begun to include blog links alongside stories, but it’s an automated, hit-or-miss affair.)

We’re certainly not going into the newspaper business, but we’re going to fill that gap where search, news, blogging and wikis intersect—or where they would intersect if anyone was willing to put the work in to make it happen.