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Your Search, Your Way, Part Two

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Today, we continue our look at personalized search services, focusing in depth on offerings from Yahoo and Eurekster.

This continues yesterday's SearchDay article, Your Search, Your Way.

Yahoo Search Builder

Yahoo has recently launched a new personalized search called Yahoo Search Builder. The process of creating the search was very similar to the other offerings—name my search being the first choice. I was then given the option of deciding on which resources were to be searched, and was presented with three options—the web, a specific site or Yahoo news, or any combination thereof. It was also possible to further customize the experience for my users—a custom search based on sites that I trusted (along the Rollyo lines), keywords appropriate to the search, and the exclusion of certain keywords or sites.

The first section is easy to do; list 5 major sites. The second section, choosing keywords is rather more difficult, and this is a problem that I have with all of these home grown search engines. Obviously I could put in terms like "search," "searching," "search engines" and so on, but by the very nature of the sites that I'm choosing to include that's going to be a given. Moreover, by adding in terms, I'm presuming that this will simply create an AND function, so a lot of synonyms isn't going to actually help the searcher, and indeed may well hinder them.

"Information" seems to be a sensible term to use however, so I go with that.

With the next section I can choose terms to exclude from the search. This is in some ways easier, since I could choose a whole bunch of inappropriate terms; I can't think anyone is going to be that interested in penguins when doing a search about search engines, but is there any point in excluding a term like that anyway? However, since I'm not really interested in the stocks and shares aspect of search engines, there's a couple of terms that I'll have excluded from the results.

Finally I can exclude results from various sites (again, I have no idea how many), so play it safe by excluding Disney. Ironically I can't restrict the search TO specific sites—the earlier option just allows me to choose several sites to emphasize. This is apparently something that is currently being addressed by Yahoo, and from the searches that I've been running it appears to be have fixed; all of the searches that I ran were limited to the sites that I specified.

Of course at this point I do wonder if these choices are going to be public; it would be very easy to create a search engine that excluded the results from my major competitor, for example, thus creating a nice bias in favor of my own site. The system is not helpful on this point, so I'll just have to wait and see. Search preview seems to do what it's supposed to do, and I'm happy with the results at this point.

I can also customize on the news front by time period and this time I'm not limiting by site—I want any news that I can find. There is also an option to include or exclude from different categories such as politics and entertainment, but again, I'll go for all options.

Having chosen my options here the next page allows me to customize by size (narrow, wide or customized). I can also show most popular searches, change the colors and fonts used, and choose the site encoding. Default options on all of these I think.

The next page allows me to customize a little further, with some banner text ("Phil Bradley helps you search more easily") which is required, oddly enough. I can also include a logo if desired, with col ours and fonts. Finally I can choose to open results in a new window, and limit to a particular language and I can cut and paste the resulting code onto a webpage for the world to use. The search box is clear, with 3 options—search the web, this site or news. When I run my search I am then taken directly to the Yahoo Search and my results are displayed in the usual format, together with a note that the results have been customized for me.

Yahoo Search Builder does exactly what it says on the tin. It quickly creates a useable, functional search resource that focuses on the needs of the particular user. Given that it's a Yahoo product I can see that this will become a very popular feature very quickly and will be appearing on a lot of sites in the not too distant future.

Eurekster swickis

Eurekster's Swicki been available for some time and is a well known product. The emphasis here however is slightly different—instead of being based solely on what you as an individual create, a Swicki's strength is in its community appeal. If a group of people with a similar interests can collaborate and create, then use a swicki and the results will quickly get tailored for that group.

Creating a swicki is straightforward. The swicki has to be named (and a nice piece of functionality here tells me if the name that I'm typing in is available or not), and then I choose the physical look of the search box from seven different options. I can then choose words or phrases to 'seed' the hot searches cloud together with options such as font and font size. I then add in keyword options and specific sites to search, blogs and images. I can then exclude specific sites and allow or disallow adult sites. After naming it and categorizing it the final step is simply to cut and paste the HTML code onto a webpage or into a weblog, and also allow friends or colleagues to use it as well. The more people that use the swicki, the better it can 'learn' what results are appropriate for a search and it can fine-tune the results, giving the entire community a better search experience.

All of these personalized search services have different advantages and disadvantages, and it would be invidious to say that any one of them was the best, since they're all doing slightly different things, albeit in the same general area. None of them stand head and shoulders above the others, but if for no other reason than the company behind it, I would have to say that the Yahoo Search Builder is going to become the market leader reasonably quickly. However, having said that, choice is going to be very much down to individual requirement and I would confidently predict that while there are few utilities currently in this area, tools that allow you to create and refine your own search experience are likely to proliferate very quickly in the near future.

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