Hang Ten with SurfWax Metasearch

Mae West would love SurfWax, a metasearch engine that decisively proves that "too much of a good thing is wonderful." Beyond returning results from all major search engines and directories, SurfWax lets you go under its hood and customize your options in numerous useful ways.

SurfWax's home page is deceptively sparse, offering just a search form, two pull-down menus, and a few links to advanced features and info. The pull-down menus are the first clue that SurfWax is different than most other search engines. One allows you to specify the number of results your search will return (25, 50, 100, 200, or "max"), and the other determines how results are sorted (alphabetically, by relevance, or by source search engine).

Results are displayed in a framed window, with titles only in the left frame, and a multi-purpose display frame on the right. Most of the time, the right frame is used to display a feature unique to SurfWax called "SiteSnaps."

SiteSnaps, in a nutshell, are snapshots of a web page created on the fly when you click the magnifying glass icon next to a search result. In short, they provide you with a snapshot of all the pertinent information SurfWax has used to determine relevance, and more.

SiteSnaps include content analysis, with counts for the number of links, images, words and forms on the page. These counts can provide valuable clues to help you determine if the page is the type you're looking for.

For example, a page with many links and few words may not have much specific content, but rather is likely to be a directory or "favorite sites" type of page. On the other hand, a page with many words but few links and images may be primarily a page with a lot of content, such as a report or article. A page with many forms is probably a data entry page -- and these pages are often the front door to databases or Invisible Web content.

A SiteSnap also include information on the "page elements" SurfWax uses to determine relevance. This is a unique feature -- most search engines are simply "black boxes" where your query is mysteriously processed and you get a result, but you really don't know how your query was processed. SurfWax shows you exactly which elements on a page are the ones it has determined are most relevant to your query.

One is the "Author's Description," which is actually the contents of the "meta description" tag that's included on some web pages. Another element, "Matched in Context," displays the actual text from the page that matches your search criteria.

SurfWax also extracts information from the page to provide you with more information about its meaning. A really neat function called "Key Points" shows you the key issues or relations extracted from the page. It's almost like SurfWax took a highlighter pen to the page, underlining the most important parts based on your query.

Both the "Matched in Context" and the "Key Points" are displayed as short snippets of text, making it easy to scan the highlights of a page in a glance. Next to each snippet is a magnifying glass and a blue arrow. Clicking the arrow expands the snippet to the full sentence or paragraph from which it was extracted. If you like what you see, clicking a magnifying glass displays the target web page in the right frame, allowing you to read it while preserving your result list and query.

Finally, at the bottom of the Site Snap, there are up to 40 "FocusWords" extracted directly from the page to represent the page's content. These words are hyperlinked -- simply click on the FocusWord text to move it to the Search box. In effect, this lets you easily add on to your query by selecting the most appropriate words from your entire result set.

While SiteSnaps are a terrific feature, they're just the tip of SurfWax's iceberg. SurfWax has additional features available if you register, including the ability to build your own customized interface into the Invisible Web, and save your SiteSnaps (from web pages, Doc files, or PDF files) in an "InfoCubby" where they can be re-used, annotate, and shared with other users.

"We envision a future with two types of Internet search," says SurfWax President and CEO Tom Holt. "One, grab and go, quick one-shot searches (like Google) and two, personalized knowledge capture and sharing, for ongoing research and interest tracking (like SurfWax). Our goal is to provide an infrastructure that lets users make the best use of their search results, including sharing of and collaboration with results."

Stay tuned -- tomorrow's edition of SearchDay explores the advanced features of SurfWax available to registered users.


Search 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.

About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was About.com's Web Search Guide.