Users of HotBot will find a new emphasis on the human. Changes have been made to integrate material generated by human editors into the service.
Hotbot has moved its search box from center stage, with new channels being featured more prominently. The normal favorites are here, such as news, sports and travel. However, rather than an alphabetical listing, HotBot has organized them into common interest areas.
"We felt it was important to bring people a channel focus," said spokesperson Andrew de Vries. "For broader topics, those popular on the web, people need something other than just a search engine."
Content within the channels varies. The News area features headlines from Wired News and is now the new home to the former NewsBot search engine. In Sports, scores are provided through a partnership with MSNBC, while recommended web sites are also prominently listed.
There are similar specialty search and information databases in the other channels, along with links to prominent sites. This directory has been hand-built by Wired Digital editors, and it aims to list only the very best of the web.
HotBot does accept submissions to this directory via email. However, be aware that only a few exceptional sites will be listed. See the Selection Guidelines page below for more information.
The partnership with LookSmart remains, and it serves to provide a directory of sites beyond the top picks listed within the channels. These appear in a small box to the right of the recommended sites, called appropriately, More Sites.
Despite displaying channels prominently on its home page, many users will continue gravitating toward the search box. In response, HotBot integrates channel content into search results, in response to popular or broad search terms.
For example, "stocks" causes the search results page to be topped by an option to search for stock prices. "Travel" brings up links to Lonely Planet travel guides, and "news" leads with two news search options -- though oddly, not the HotBot news search engine.
Excite has been doing this type of search integration since May and calls it "channelized search." HotBot's term is "Smart Results." Regardless of the name, the moves are beneficial for many search engine users who are often after information, not matching web pages.
The human element is also integrated into HotBot's search results through its partnership with Direct Hit. That service creates top ten lists based on what users are clicking on from the "normal" HotBot results.
Direct Hit is easier to use now that HotBot has made the feature more prominent. Just do a search, such as for "travel," and right above the matching web pages will be an image link that says "Top 10 Most Visited Sites for Travel." Click on the link, and you'll see the Direct Hit list of sites.
HotBot has also made a number of changes to its search engine results. It now follows Infoseek's lead in clustering, which means listing only one page per web site in the top results. This prevents any one site from dominating the results, and the greater representation of sites it creates is beneficial to users.
Unlike Infoseek, this feature cannot be turned off. However, clicking on the "see results from this site only" link below each listing will display all matching pages from that site.
HotBot has also rolled out a number of new advanced search options. Stemming is now supported. When switched on, a search for something like "think" will also bring up pages with "thinking" and even "thought."
There's also the ability to do a search for personal pages, such as those commonly hosted on free web sites such as AOL or GeoCities. HotBot does this by classifying sites by domain or looking for common URL features of personal pages, such as the presence of a tilde or the word "member" in the URL.
Both options can be found on the SuperSearch page, reachable from the home page by clicking on the "More Search Options" button just below the normal Search button. The personal page option is in the Page Depth section of the SuperSearch page.
A new search option also exists right on the home page: Search By Language. Now results can be narrowed to pages written in one of nine different languages.
Coming soon will be a porn control, where users can control the degree they want to keep hard core sex sites and other possibly objectionable material out of their results.
One frustrating thing some readers have complained about to me is connectivity problems with the site. Searches can get cutoff in mid-stream or pages may not load properly, both situations I have seen happen many times recently. HotBot said that these may be related to the redesign, and that hopefully they'll be resolved shortly.
There have also been some problems with the database size and freshness, and especially with adding pages, due to Inktomi's expansion. These issues are covered in the crawling article below, and the MSN article above.
Finally, HotBot has quietly added the portal features of free email and home pages, in partnership with Lycos-owned WhoWhere. A television ad campaign will also be underway shortly.
HotBot Directory Selection Guidelines
Counting Clicks and Looking at Links
The Search Engine Update, Aug. 4, 1998
More about how Direct Hit works.
Excite Enhances Search Results
The Search Engine Report, June 3, 1998
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