Safe Searching with Lycos

Parents, librarians or others needing to restrict access to adult or inappropriate web sites should look at Lycos SearchGuard, a flexible and sensible filter that doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Web filtering is a controversial issue, but there's no denying that it's a good idea in some situations. Many approaches have been tried, but the problem with most filtering programs or schemes is that they're overzealous and often block useful content in addition to the undesirable stuff. They also tend to be black boxes, so you don't really know what you're missing when using one.

Like most search engines, Lycos offers an "adult content" filter, but it's more sophisticated than those offered by others. Rather than a simple toggle that turns a filter on or off, Lycos provides a selective interface, allowing you to block up to five different kinds of inappropriate content.

Options include filtering out violent content, filtering out hate and racist content, filtering out content about weapons, filtering out sexually oriented content, or selecting all of these options. Notably, you can also disable access to Lycos chat and Lycos mail, adding another layer of protection beyond filtering search results.

These filters also work because they're not automated. "There's an explicit blacklist of phrases that's editorially compiled and maintained on a regular basis," according to Tom Wilde, general manager of search services for Lycos.

This means that a student searching for information on "breast cancer" will get results, whereas a simple search on "breast" will display a message saying "all of the words in the original query breast are deemed to be adult-oriented" and no results will be shown.

"We felt strongly about taking a lead in providing one of the safest neighborhoods on the web for kids," said Lycos spokesperson Kathy O'Reilly.

One minor problem with SearchGuard is that it doesn't apply to the annoying pop-under ads Lycos sometime serves with search results. Even with SearchGuard enabled, you might see an ad for casino gambling, for example.

Lycos' Wilde acknowledges the problem and says it will be fixed soon. He also holds out hope that Lycos may eliminate pop-unders altogether as run of service ads are usually irrelevant to search results and interfere with the overall high-quality search experience Lycos seeks to provide. We'll see.

Bottom line: if you need a web search filtering solution, Lycos' flexible SearchGuard is one of your best options for keeping searchers out of the seedier neighborhoods of the web.

Lycos SearchGuard

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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's Web Search Guide.