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Teoma vs. Google, Round Two

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Search engine upstart Teoma has officially launched, and the media is once again touting it as a Google killer. Here's a look behind the hype, and the real reasons you'll want to add Teoma to your web search toolkit.

Labeling Teoma a Google killer makes for a great headline, but is really rather silly. Teoma is a very good search engine, but at this point it poses very little threat to Google's dominance of the web search world.

We'll save the face off comparison for later, after Teoma has had a chance to prove itself. Meanwhile, let's look at some of the nifty things that makes Teoma unique, and an excellent choice for many types of search queries.

Teoma offers three kinds of results for each query. On the left of the result page are "relevant web pages" that are similar to what other engines produce. On the right are two other kinds of results: "Refine," a list of "suggestions to narrow your search," and "Resources," which are "link collections from experts and enthusiasts."

Each set of results is useful, for different reasons. And all three types of results are generated using proprietary technology that makes them somewhat unique compared to other engines.

Teoma's underlying technology is an extension of the HITS algorithm developed by researchers at IBM several years ago. In a nutshell, the search engine goes beyond traditional keyword and text analysis and seeks out "hubs" and "authorities" related to your query terms -- a "social network" of related content that forms a "community" about the topic.

The cool thing about Teoma is that its community-seeking behavior is both query-specific, and happens in real time. "Whenever you type in a query, we're actually looking for the communities after you type the query," said Paul Gardi, Teoma's Vice President of Search. "We're using a method called dynamic rank, because there's a lot of information you can learn about that page by its friends."

Teoma's approach differs from Google's, which uses a similar, but more static ranking system. It's also unlike the approach taken by Northern Light and other engines that classify web pages based on pre-defined categories.

"We're going into the communities, finding the link structure of the community using text structure as well," said Gardi.

What does this mean in practice? How can this approach improve your search results?

First of all, by relying on the "authorities" within a community, Teoma "relevant web pages" are generally quite useful, even for obscure topics. Second, "Resources" are often link-rich pages -- pathfinders or directories -- that are excellent starting points for further research on a particular topic.

But it's the "refine" results that are perhaps Teoma's most unique feature. These links are automatically generated labels that "define" a community for the query words you're using.

So even if your initial query doesn't provide spot-on results, the "refine" links allow you to "drill down" into a community, potentially revealing information you can't easily find with traditional approaches to information processing.

"It's extremely valuable for the user to have something to refine. It's a very different kind of refine because it's actually pulling you down through the actual communities that exist," said Teoma's Gardi. "Communities are getting stronger or weaker based on how the web is growing."

This dynamic approach to surfacing content means that Teoma can discover beginnings of a new community even for new or obscure pages. This makes it an excellent companion or alternative to other search engines, including Google, that tend to rely on lots of links pointing to pages to infer authority.

But Teoma is not a wholesale replacement for Google, nor is it an engine you'll want to use exclusively. Teoma's index of 200 million pages is tiny compared to most of the other major search engines. And the company doesn't intend to compete on size, but rather on providing "authoritative" results. "We're adding a little bit every day -- we're about halfway to getting to where we need to be," said Gardi.

Think of Teoma as a new type of hybrid between a search engine and a directory, incorporating the best features of both. Like most search engines, Teoma's scope is large enough to satisfy even the most obscure information need, but without overwhelming you with millions of near-matches or false drops. And like a good directory, Teoma structures information in a way that facilitates browsing based on context and meaning.

Bottom line: Teoma isn't a Google killer now, and likely never will be, but it's still an excellent search engine for many types of queries. Definitely worth adding to your web search toolkit.

Teoma
http://www.teoma.com

Ask Jeeves Acquires Teoma
The Search Engine Report, Oct. 2, 2001
http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/01/10-ask.html
Ask Jeeves has purchased the Teoma search engine, which has attracted interest over recent months as a potential relevancy challenger to Google.

Teoma Tackles the Web
SearchDay, Jun. 11, 2001
http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/01/sd0611-teoma.html
Teoma is a new search engine born in the computer labs at Rutgers University that looks like a serious contender for joining the major leagues.

How Teoma Works
http://static.wc.teoma.com/docs/teoma/about/searchWithAuthority.html
A brief overview of the Teoma technology.

Hypersearching the Web
http://www.sciam.com/1999/0699issue/0699raghavan.html
An excellent overview of the original HITS project and "social network" theory, and how it can improve the overall quality of web search results.

Search Headlines

Today's headlines are more abundant than usual, due to yesterday's April Fools fake headlines.

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

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