About The Update
The Search Engine Update is a twice-monthly update of search engine news. It is available only to those people who have subscribed to Search Engine Watch, http://searchenginewatch.com/.
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In This Issue
+ General Notes
+ Go Arrives from Disney and Infoseek
+ LookSmart Launches Local Search, Plans Directory Expansion
+ Excite Adds Media Search
+ Go2Net Absorbs MetaCrawler
+ Excite Changes E-Mail Features
+ Infoseek Add URL Fixed For UK Sites
+ Search Engine Notes
+ Search Engine Articles
+ Subscribing/Unsubscribing Info
I've posted a new page that lists various utilities that let you search from the desktop, some of which have been covered in past reports. I will also be updating the NetRatings page either today or tomorrow with some interesting data about audience overlap by search engines. See the What's New page, below, a link to the new page and for when the updated NetRatings page is available.
And now I'm off for the holidays -- I hope you all do the same!
Search Engine News
After much anticipation, the new Go site from Infoseek and Disney debuted in beta format on December 14. New features will continue to be added to Go, and the service is to officially launch the week of January 11.
Go is not a replacement for Infoseek, but it draws so heavily on content from that service that it almost seems like Infoseek on steroids. There's a strong emphasis on search and navigation throughout the service, though there are plenty of efforts to feed users home-grown content from the various web properties that the Go partners own, such as Family.com and ESPN.com.
Let's start at the top. The Go home page begins with a search box, and using it produces results that are nearly identical to searching at Infoseek. That's because under the hood, it's the Infoseek index and search algorithm that's being used. Go is simply placing a different look around these results.
The key difference can be found in the "Recommended" section that comes at the beginning of results pages. Here, you'll find links to related areas within Go's "centers," as opposed to areas within Infoseek's "channels."
The names are different, but much of the content in these areas looks the same. Returning to the Go home page, you'll discover links to top level centers dominating the page. The usual topics can be found, including automotive, business, sports and travel categories.
Entering the Automotive center, one finds content very similar to that of Infoseek's Automotive channel. Where Go begins to flex its network muscles is when you enter a center that corresponds topically to one of the web properties owned by Disney and Infoseek.
For example, selecting the Sports center brings up top level content that heavily reflects the home page of ESPN.com. The Kids Center features Disney.com content prominently on its top level. In News, content from ABCnews.com is featured.
Aside from the centers, Go also features web directory and community options, organized by topic. To access these options from the home page, choose either the "Web Directory" or "Community" links that appear inside the reverse bar at the top of the page.
You'll see that these options look like tabs -- there is also one called "Go Centers." The three of them are called "Follow-Me" tabs, and they are designed to help users navigate horizontally across the web properties in the Go network.
For example, assume you enter the Sports center and click on one of the stories from ESPN. The story will load, along with the Follow-Me tabs at the top of the page. You can then choose the "Web sites" tab to view related sports web sites from the Go directory without having to navigate back up to the Go home page. Of course, the wording is inconsistent -- the tab should match the wording on the home page -- but this is still a beta site.
Watch for more tabs in the future. Infoseek says at least two, for local content and commerce options, are in the works.
Go offers personalization, something Infoseek lacks. Signing up for an account provides the user with free email, web pages, the ability to chat and other common portal services. To sign-up, or sign-in, simply follow the links next to the Go logo, in the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Personalization also works across all the sites in the Go Network. If you sign up at Go, you are covered at ABCnews.com, for example. In fact, all the Go Network sites are changing their addresses to end in go.com, such as abcnews.go.com and infoseek.go.com, so that one cookie can be used for measurement purposes. Existing addresses are to redirect to the new ones.
Go offers two new search enhancements not currently available at Infoseek: a filtering feature and new custom search collections.
Goguardian is the name of the kid-safe search feature. Similar to those at Lycos and AltaVista, it is designed to prevent objectionable pages from appearing in response to innocent searches such as "toys."
Infoseek is using similar techniques as its competitors to spot objectionable pages, including identifying pages as objectionable at the time of spidering and the use of a site block list.
In addition, Go has an advantage in that the Infoseek search algorithm was already tweaked to produce very clean results, in my opinion. Searches for innocent terms often brought up less objectionable content in comparison to some of its competitors, when I've run checks in the past.
To enable Goguardian, chose the "Search With Goguardian" option below the search box, on the home page. It can be disabled at any time.
In a separate feature, Go will warn before returning results on searches for terms that might be objectionable, even if Goguardian has not been enabled.
"We're always amazed at how many people accidentally do an explicit search, didn't realize the search was explicit, and are shocked at the results," said the Go Network's senior vice president and general manager, Barak Berkowitz.
To see this protection in action, enter any common obscenity, and you'll likely receive a warning screen that says "Adult content alert." You can then choose to proceed, or you are invited to go back to the home page and enable Goguardian.
The warning also appears for terms that aren't necessarily obscene, such as "breast," but which may result in some objectionable sites being displayed. Infoseek says it is still tweaking words on the warning list, which some people may find a bit too protective, at the moment.
Experienced searchers will likely find the page annoying, but it is easy to disable. Just choose the "Do not show alert again" option the first time the page appears, and you will have banished the alert. For new and inexperienced users, it seems like a nice educational addition.
Go also has new specialty search services called "Finders" available in various sections of the site. Finders, which ironically are rather difficult to find, get their data by custom crawling a set of sites an editor has selected, usually about 10 or so. This means that search results should be focused and of high quality in relation to the topic.
For example, there is a "Movie Review" finder in the Movies areas of the Entertainment center, which brings back results from places like Mr. Showbiz and the Cranky Critic. The same center also has a book review and album review finder. In the Kids area, a cartoon search is available. Within the Family area, a recipe search service is offered. There are also plans to add more Finders over time.
Go offers an Add URL page, but there is no reason to use this if you've already submitted to Infoseek. The Go Add URL page is simply a branded version of the Infoseek Add URL page. If you submit in one place, you are covered in both of them. There is absolutely no reason to submit to both places, Infoseek says. You gain no advantage by doing so, and in fact, you'll probably find that Infoseek's anti-spamming filter will prevent you from submitting the same URL in both places on the same day. That's something Infoseek needs to clarify.
By the way, those who have submitted to Infoseek via its Add URL page recently may have noticed a delay in getting in. This is due to work relating to the Go launch. Infoseek says new pages should begin appearing within this week, and the Add URL service will return to its normal next-business turn-around time.
The Go Network is also planning to launch a new search site stripped of portal options in the coming months, to appeal to those who want search and nothing but search.
"It will be a really pure optimized search site," Berkowitz said. "There's no place for the search person who really wants a research site without any of the portalization," he said.
The new site, planned to appear at search.go.com, will have advanced search features directly on the home page. There is also likely to be term highlighting in the results, a feature available in Infoseek's Express metasearch software, and the ability to save searches and build online clip files.
With Go on one side and a proposed new search site on the other, what's the future for the Infoseek site? Berkowitz says the company is committed to keeping the site and the brand alive, with the focus firmly on search and navigation.
What seems likely is that if enough people transition from Infoseek to Go in the next few months, then the company may feel more comfortable about turning Infoseek into the new pure search site. If the transition is slower, then running three separate search sites makes sense in that converting Infoseek into a pure search site might ostracize its existing audience -- with no guarantee that they would go to Go.
Kids Search Engines
You'll find links here to more kid-safe search options and articles that explain how filtering works.
More about Infoseek Express and other packages that allow metasearch from the desktop.
Infoseek says no to adult advertising
News.com, Dec. 9, 1998
Infoseek no longer accepts adult advertising, and Go won't either. More details about the move.
LookSmart has unveiled localized directories for 65 cities or major metropolitan areas in the United States, which are available in conjunction with its web wide listings. In addition, the service expects to greatly enlarge its 800,000 listings after the New Year.
To access the new local listings, choose the Your Town tab, then select your desired area. The Your Town tab will then change to display the area name, and local listings will be available through it. You can also jump back to web wide results by selecting the "The Web" tab. To change your default area, select the "Change Your Town" option that appears in the lower left-hand corner of the page.
The local directories were developed in partnership with Cox Interactive Media and also appear at Cox city sites, such as BayInsider.com and AccessAtlanta.com.
LookSmart also has some regional listings within its main web-wide database, but sites appearing here do not yet appear when viewing categories via the local tabs.
"At the moment, there are separate databases," said LookSmart cofounder Tracey Ellery. "Over a period of time, we'll integrate that data into the overall directory".
In addition, LookSmart says it is getting closer to populating its directory with a large number of site submissions gathered over the past few months.
LookSmart has had long standing plans to allow sites to post themselves instantly in categories where strong editorial oversight may not be necessary, such as lists of schools or clubs. In fact, the service now believes it can do this in most categories.
The idea is that when a user comes into a category, they'll first be presented with a list of top picks as determined by editors. Down at the bottom of the page would be a "More" option. This would show sites that either have not been reviewed or have not been selected as top picks.
"The vast majority of categories will have some ability for suggested sites to be listed, even if they are not on the first page," Ellery said.
Look for the release of these "unselected" sites in the first months of next year -- LookSmart says that it is currently notifying webmasters who have submitted if they'll be present in the unselected database.
Of course, editors continue to select sites for inclusion in the existing directory, and LookSmart says even more sites will be appearing as a result of the editor expansion program underway. The company says it currently has 80 editors and plans to increase them to 150 by March of next year, which will in turn enlarge its reviewed listings.
"The size of our selected database is going to literally explode by 10 times over the next 12 months, said LookSmart CEO Evan Thronley.
LookSmart also plans changes to improve how sites are listed in response to keyword searches.
"We've really focused on the directory than the search engine, although we are now doing a whole range of things to improve the algorithm," said cofounder Ellery.
That should help benefit users, because at the moment, it can be hard to distinguish why a site may appear first in the search results.
FYI, one current factor that bumps a site up higher is if it also is ranked highly within its home category. For example, a search for "bill clinton" brings up matches from the Starr Report and President Bill Clinton categories. If you browse to these categories, you'll find that these sites are also top picks within these categories.
Looking for RealAudio or RealVideo files? The new Excite Audio/Video search service will help you find them. The service's search interface is built into the recently released RealPlayer G2 software, which allows users to hear and see these types of files.
Those with RealPlayer G2 will find the Excite search box at the bottom of the player window, next to the Excite logo. Simply replace the existing "Enter your Audio/Video search here" text with terms you'd like to look for. Then pages linking to matching clips will be displayed within your browser.
For example, entering "furby" brings up results that list a page from ABCnews.com. That page has a link to a RealVideo clip which shows the electronic toy in action. You'll often also discover other audio-video files on pages listed, such as QuickTime clips, though Excite isn't explicitly cataloging these.
Excite is not actually indexing the RealNetwork files themselves. Instead, it scans within a collection of web pages that actually link to RealNetwork files. Those containing the query words are displayed. It's a best guess method similar to that used by other media search services.
RealNetwork files can have metadata attached to them, but Excite is not currently utilizing this information. That could change in the future, especially if more media producers provide trustworthy metadata, said Excite search product manager Kris Carpenter.
"I think that absolutely is something that publishers should start thinking about. I don't think it is something that is so far off in the industry," Carpenter said.
So how do you prepare? Carpenter says that the most important metadata to provide is an effective title, an accurate description and a date.
RealPlayer G2 is available as a free download, via the link below. For those without the player, try the second link as a workaround to see how the service works.
There are two options: RealPlayer G2 and RealPlayer Plus G2. The first option is free and provides A/V search capabilities.
Excite Audio/Video Search
Excite A/V Search is designed to be accessed from the G2 player. But if you haven't yet downloaded it, you can go to the URL above, then enter a query in the search box.
Specialty Search Engines
See the Multimedia Search section for other media search services.
The popular MetaCrawler metasearch service has now been officially folded into the new Go2Net portal.
Go2Net is the company which owns MetaCrawler, and it launched a portal site encompassing its various web properties in November.
Those visiting the new Go2Net site can still perform metasearches just as they did with MetaCrawler. The site serves as the new, and now the only, interface into MetaCrawler.
MetaCrawler sends search queries out to several of the major search engines at one time, then presents results from all of them on one page. Services polled include AltaVista, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos, Thunderstone, WebCrawler and Yahoo. Go2Net has agreements with these services to gather results.
Additionally, the Go2Net site offers several specialty metasearch services called "Search Channels." These include topics such as computing, entertainment and health, and all can be reached via the home page.
In each case, Go2Net sends the query out to selected sites and collates their responses. The actual sites queried are listed prominently at the top of each channel's home page. Just look for the text that says "Including," and you'll see the sites listed underneath.
Go2Net is not related to GoTo.com or the new Go.com search services.
Excite has made access to its free email service available from the Excite home page and changed the address given to those using the service.
Previously, Excite Mail could only be accessed by going to a different site. Now, an option to sign-up appears just below the Excite logo, on the Excite home page. Those who have already signed up will see a "Check Your Email" link, rather than a sign-up option, if they are logged into Excite.
If you had an existing address ending with @mailexcite.com, it has automatically been changed to use the new ending, and all mail going to the old address will be forwarded to the new one.
Excite corporate addresses previously ended in @excite.com. These have now been changed to ending in @excitecorp.com.
For several months, site owners in the United Kingdom have reported problems submitting through Infoseek's Add URL page. They would get a page telling them that their domain had been blocked, and their pages never appeared in the index.
Infoseek has tracked this down to a blocking error that has now been fixed. The www.co.uk web site was on its block list, but through a misconfiguration, any site ending in co.uk was being blocked.
That's not to say that all co.uk sites were kept out of the index. The block didn't affect sites already listed or sites that were manually added after complaining to Infoseek. It was restricted to new sites trying to use the Add URL form.
The error has now been fixed, and those submitting should see their pages appear within the next week or so. This is a longer than normal delay relating to the launch of the recent Go site, and it affects all submitted pages, not just co.uk hosted ones. By the New Year, the normal next business day turn around time should be back in operation.
Search Engine Notes
Affiliate Program Search Service Launched
LinkExchange has launched a directory of merchants and other sites offering "affiliate" programs. These programs pay affiliates for sending them visitors through banner ads or links. You can search for programs by keyword or browse sites by category. Those with affiliate programs can also add themselves to the directory.
Lycos Opens Virtual Storefront
Lycos is selling products online through its recently launched Lycos Store. In contrast to online mall offerings from Yahoo and Excite, Lycos is selling products directly to consumers rather than offering space to merchants.
LinkExchange Offers Premium Package
LinkExchange offers a variety of free services, such as Submit it, which submits sites to search engines, and PositionAgent, which provides page rank checking at major search engines. There are also paid versions of these and other LinkExchange services, which some members choose to subscribe for in order to receive additional features or benefits. LinkExchange has now introduced a "Premium" membership package that combines these paid versions into one price. Premium membership is $149 per year, or there is a more expensive monthly subscription of $12.99 per month and a $30 setup fee.
LinkExchange Premium Membership Information
News Seekers Turn To Search Sites
Almost half of online users turn to search and navigation services for their online news needs, a new Jupiter Communications survey of 2,200 people found. Consumers of online news were also found to be mostly interested in headlines and updates on breaking stories.
Portals Emerge as Dominant Source for Online News
Jupiter Communications, Dec. 8, 1998
Here Come The Ads
Expect to see even more search and portal related ads on a TV screen near you, in the US. Excite's ads began on Dec. 7 and will run for six weeks. Go's ads will launch its campaign on Dec. 26, along with ads on radio, outdoors and online. Meanwhile, Netscape said it is readying a $30 million ad campaign for television, print and radio.
Watch them online in RealVideo format.
Netscape takes its message to the masses
Wired, Dec. 17, 1998
The second story on this page provides a few more details about the Netscape ads.
Search Engine Articles
Excite at a crossroads, CEO says
News.com, Dec. 14, 1998
Excite CEO George Bell on the AOL-Netscape deal and other issues.
Building Responsive User Communities
Internet World, Dec. 14, 1998
Details on how Excite provides its communities service.
Portal Sites Reap the Rewards Of Strategies for Getting 'Sticky'
Wall St. Journal, Dec. 7, 1998
A review of how search sites have increasingly turned themselves into "sticky" portals that capture and retain visitors.
A Tale of Two Years' Manias Shows a Medium's Evolution
Wall St. Journal, Dec. 7, 1998
An interesting recap article that compares how and why portals have become the darlings of the Internet for advertisers looking for audience consistency, while push has all but disappeared as a proposed solution.
Forbes, Nov. 30, 1998
Some nice technical details about how Inktomi works, which will already be familiar to many readers of this newsletter. A quote from Yahoo explains that it dropped AltaVista for Inktomi earlier this year because "AltaVista couldn't scale up as well." In reality, Yahoo gets a smaller sample of the web than other Inktomi partners receive, and indeed, probably a smaller sample than AltaVista was providing. The reason is chiefly due to Inktomi's problems handling its phenomenal growth, which in turn raises questions about just how scalable its system really is.
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