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Visualizing Yahoo Search Results

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Grokker, a visual search tool that clusters related search results together in conceptually related categories, is now available in an online version, free of charge.

The I Grok search tool from Grokker uses the Yahoo web database as its index, and clusters results into "maps" with topics represented as circles. Within each topic circle, which is labeled with a descriptive name, individual web page results are represented as squares. For most queries you'll see up to nine major topics, many of which have subtopics represented as smaller circles within them.

This presentation is appealing if you like visually organized results, but there are a couple of other neat features offered by I Grok that are worth exploring even if you're not a fan of categorized results.

First, I Grok displays up to 160 results from the Yahoo index, more than the 100 maximum you can get from Yahoo itself on a single page. Since these results are grouped in topics, rather than presented in a linear list, you often see results that you might otherwise miss.

I Grok also has a couple of preview features that make it easy to learn more about web pages before actually clicking through to view them. Mouse over a square box representing a web page, and in a few seconds a pop-up window appears providing details about the page, including name, description, date of last update, parent website URL, domain type (commercial, educational, country specific and so on) format and Yahoo result rank.

If that looks promising, clicking the box displays a thumbnail image of the web page with similar information in a preview pane with a link to open the web page in a new browser window. The combination of these two tools makes it easy to scan dozens of web pages in a very short period of time without ever resorting to the "back" button on your browser.

I Grok doesn't allow you to use any of Yahoo's advanced search commands, but it does offer some additional filtering tools to help you narrow search results. Click the "Show tools" link in the lower left of the screen, and a control console opens with several filtering tools.

First is an additional search box that lets you search for words appearing in descriptions of pages found on the map. Pages not containing the word you specify are filtered from the map.

Next to this box is a slider that lets you limit results to those updated after a certain date. As with all date filters on any search engine, this control is often next to worthless, since the date used is the last page update, rather than the creation date of the web page. This filter can be useful for sites that never change web pages once they're uploaded, but should be used with care otherwise.

Another slider allows you to filter pages by their Yahoo rank. By default, you see virtually all of the 160 results fetched by I Grok. Using the slider, you can winnow results so that only higher-ranking pages are displayed. Using this filter also has the effect in most cases of reducing the number of categorized topics displayed.

When would you use I Grok rather than simply doing a search directly on Yahoo? I find it useful when I'm searching on an unfamiliar subject—the categories can help you develop additional search terms by showing related topics.

I Grok is also very useful for helping you pinpoint specific types of content within Yahoo search results that may not be similarly ranked. For example, a search for Diana Krall returns topics including "jazz vocal music," "news," "sheet music," and so on. Another category, "tour dates," has links to four sites, with Yahoo rankings of 1, 75, 100 and 125 all clustered together, making it easy to check out each page without any scrolling through search results at all.

Note: You may see different categories when using this query. Because I Grok uses Yahoo search results, any changes in Yahoo's algorithms or performance factors may re-rank results, causing changes to I Grok's clustering processes.

You can also email I Grok maps to others, though what you're really doing here is saving a copy of the map on Grokker's servers and sending a link that anyone can open in their own browser. Saved maps remain on Grokker's servers for 15 days.

If you like I Grok, consider trying the desktop version of myGrokker, which is available as a free trial in both Windows and Macintosh versions. myGrokker has more features than I Grok, including the ability to search Google, Teoma and other search engines, as well as the contents of your own desktop. It also displays up to 2,000 results, and has more filters and other options.

Want more information? Check out the Grokker forum, Blogs from other Grokker users, and a very addictive set of Grokker-inspired You Grok puzzles—Grokker-style search results are displayed and you have to guess the appropriate query terms that generated the topics.

For other visual search tools, scroll to the bottom of this SEW Blog post by Gary Price for links to a half-dozen other services.

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