I'll admit it: I'm addicted to Amazon.com's "customers who bought X also bought" feature. It's a great way to see what people with similar interests are reading or listening to. Wouldn't it be nice if search engines did the same thing, providing you with a list of "searchers who viewed this page also viewed" links?
To some degree, they do, when they factor popularity into results. But popularity measures don't take individual tastes into account. They simply record the frequency and duration of visits to pages by all web users.
Backwash is a hybrid portal, community and search site that organizes the Internet by personality, not by subject matter like most traditional search engines and directories. It's almost like a web concierge that can advise you on the best online places to visit based on your own personalized interests.
Backwash's mission statement describes it best: "Our goal at Backwash is to save you from Information Overload. To filter all content, not just news, and weed out the dross.
"We do this by grouping people into collaborative surfing communities which let like-minded people find content and products across all subjects. In effect, we are filtering and sorting the Internet by personalities rather than subject matter."
Backwash is similar to a web directory, built by individuals who spend a lot of time on the Internet. Backwash is divided into pages, each hosted by a different Backwash Member. The job of each Backwash Member is to scour the Internet for quality content that they personally find interesting and that they personally would spend time enjoying.
But rather than looking to build a catalog of the web organized by topic, Backwash surfers essentially recommend the best articles, radio stations, streaming video, products, novels, MP3s, games, software downloads, chat rooms -- essentially anything and everything that interests them on the web.
It's similar to the About.com model, where individual Guides are responsible for their own sections of the service. But Backwash surfers can link to anything, whereas About Guides are expected to cover only a specific niche topic.
Each Backwash surfer creates a descriptive "profile" that helps you figure out if they have similar interests to your own. Surfers choose nicknames that ostensibly describe their personalities. They tend to be pretty explicit, like "Blue-Collar Nietzsche Wanna-Be," "Spoiled European Intellectual," "Gregariously Fun Inquisitive Tall Chick," and "Stubborn Cigar Smoking Skeptic."
Each profile also has a brief description. For example, the "Gregariously Fun Inquisitive Tall Chick" likes creative marketing, music, animals, and tales of adventure. "I'm a marketing guru, basketball player, thespian enthusiast, music lover, piano player, cultural creative and lifetime student," she writes.
If the profiles seem a bit overwhelming, or if you'd like to scan the selections of more than one surfer at a time, Backwash provides "Channels" organized by "personality type." Channels include "Adrenaline Junkie," "Full-Time Mom," "Cyberpunk" and "Music Lover."
Many of the links recommended by Backwash surfers have been rated on a scale from one to five by users. Each selection also has its own message board, allowing you to read comments made by people who, at least in theory, have similar interests to your own.
Although it's not a traditional search engine or web directory, Backwash is an interesting way to locate new and interesting web content based on your own personal interests.
The company says it is developing a sophisticated personalization feature that will automatically select the best content chosen by Backwash surfers that most closely matches your tastes, while protecting your privacy. If they deliver on this promise, Backwash really does hold the promise of becoming a concierge for the web.
Become a Backwash Surfer
You can participate as a Backwash surfer by following the guidelines on this page.
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.