Meta search engine Dogpile received a major upgrade today, offering a slick new interface and some significant performance enhancements.
Dogpile is arguably the most popular meta search engine, serving up results from partners including Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, Ask Jeeves and a number of others. The engine is one of four meta search properties operated by InfoSpace (the others are Metacrawler, Webcrawler and Excite).
While all of InfoSpace's meta search engines share the same underlying technology, each has its own unique look and feel. Dogpile is considered the flagship property by the company, and is designed primarily for a general consumer audience.
The changes to Dogpile are both cosmetic and structural. The interface has been streamlined, eliminating clutter and making it easier to use the engine's numerous search functions. There are also some new customization and advanced search features, which I'll get to in a moment.
By far, the most significant changes are in the presentation of search results. Two changes, in particular, are noteworthy.
The first is that Dogpile has licensed Vivisimo's clustering technology, and uses it to group results by category in addition to providing standard search results. I've been a longtime fan of Vivisimo, and the addition of its clustering technology to Dogpile results is an exceptionally useful new feature.
Clustering occurs on the fly, and is specific to your query. In effect, it's a suggestion tool that groups results into narrower, more helpful categories.
For example, a simple query like "sony" produces a variety of standard results. But the clustered results offer more specific categories, such as music, digital cameras, VAIO computers and so on, making it easy to drill down with a single click to much more relevant results.
In testing the new interface, "74% said clustering provided a better experience," said Leslie Grandy, vice president, product management for InfoSpace.
The second notable change to results is that all sponsored listings are clearly labeled -- not just as a group, but at the bottom of each individual listing. This removes all of the ambiguity about whether results were purchased by advertisers or determined by organic search algorithms.
Search Engine Watch has been sharply critical of InfoSpace in the past for blurring the distinction between sponsored and natural search results. With this new approach to labeling results, Dogpile has set a commendable new standard for disclosure that should raise the bar for the rest of the industry.
Other changes to results are less significant, but still helpful. Previously, Dogpile results were grouped by source -- you'd see ten results from Google, then ten from Overture, and so on. If you've used Dogpile before, you'll still see results grouped this way.
New users, however, will see results grouped by relevance. It's easy to change formats, simply by clicking radio buttons at the top of result pages to "view by relevance" or "view by search engine."
The presentation of results has been subtly enhanced for easier scanning. Web page titles appear in boldface, and the line length of descriptions is shorter.
The search form interface has also changed. The query box is larger and more prominent, and radio buttons now let you choose to search web pages, images, audio, multimedia, news and shopping, replacing a drop-down menu next to the search form.
The new design removes InfoSpace white pages and yellow pages from the main search page, and makes them accessible through tabs above the main search form. "Favorite Fetches" and "Web Resources" have been moved to the bottom of the page. The home page is now also ad-free.
While these interface enhancements are really good, there are also some changes that have occurred under the hood that are worth mentioning. In addition to a new spell check feature, Dogpile's advanced search and preference selections have been upgraded.
The advanced search page lets you apply "all," "any," "none" or "exact phrase" limiters to keywords. Dogpile now also supports full Boolean search operators, though it is important to note these only work from the advanced search page.
Other advanced search options include restricting results by last page update, a domain filter, an adult filter, language selection, and a option to display results by relevance or grouped from each search engine.
With all of these advanced features, results are only returned from Dogpile search partners that support the features you select.
About the only downside to the new Dogpile is that you can no longer choose which search engines return results. Previously, you could select your preferred engines, excluding all commercial (or non-commercial) search providers, for example, from your meta search results.
Removing the choice of engines wasn't a business decision, according to InfoSpace's Grandy. "The reason was that we had not solved the usability problems with preferences," said Grandy. "It isn't to say that it's going to be permanently gone. We haven't figured out how to handle the problem."
In all, the new enhancements to Dogpile are welcome improvements to a useful search engine that had lost its way for a while. Kudos to the team at InfoSpace for offering a service that nicely balances the business needs of the company with providing a top-notch search experience for its users.
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