Power Searching with SurfWax

Yesterday's SearchDay looked at SurfWax, a web metasearch engine with some interesting and helpful features. Today we go beyond the free services and take a look at what SurfWax offers to registered users.

The two primary features available to registered users are "My SearchSets" and "My InfoCubby."

Going far beyond basic metasearch, My SearchSets allows you to select from over 1,200 search sources to create your own customized list of sources to be searched. The beauty of SearchSets is that you can create your own metasearch that uses any of the general-purpose engines like AltaVista or Google, as well as vertical or specialized sources like FindLaw and PubMed.

Many of these resources are databases, inaccessible to the general-purpose search engines and directories. By providing the capability to mix and match sources, SurfWax effectively serves as a gateway to information on both the visible and Invisible web.

Creating a SearchSet is easy, though you'll probably need to spend some time getting used to the cluttered, awkward interface beforehand. You start by naming the SearchSet and clicking the "create" button. Next, you select a major category, such as Business and Finance, Government, News, Science, and so on.

When you've selected a category, a list of subcategories appears, along with the search sources available. Adding a search source to your SearchSet is as simple as highlighting it and clicking the "add" button. You can also locate promising search sources using a keyword search form.

You can add search sources from any category to a SearchSet, and you can weight each source for importance according to your own criteria. The only limits are imposed by the level of membership you select, which we'll describe in more detail below.

Once you've created a SearchSet, a drop-down menu is added beneath the main SurfWax search form that lets you select which set to use for the search. "Default" is SurfWax's basic meta search; all other selections are the SearchSets you've created.

You can create multiple SearchSets for different topics. This is a great time-saver if you regularly search a group of sources. It's also an excellent way to learn about specialized search engines for specific topics. Simply building a SearchSet for a topic you're unfamiliar with will provide you with a useful overview of high-quality search resources for your topic.

The other advanced feature SurfWax offers is called My InfoCubby. InfoCubbies store SiteSnaps from web pages, Doc files, or PDF files. (We described SiteSnaps in yesterday's SearchDay -- in a nutshell, they are snapshots of a web page created on the fly when you click the magnifying glass icon next to a search result, capturing all of the relevant information on the page into a single snapshot).

Think of an InfoCubby as a collection of bookmarks on steroids. Instead of just a list of web page titles and URLs, InfoCubbies store those as well as keywords, snippets of page content, focus words -- in short, crucial clues about the page that can help you find it more readily in the future. SiteSnaps included in an InfoCubby can be also be annotated with your own notes.

It's easy to share an InfoCubby with other SurfWax users. You can either email an InfoCubby, or make it "public" for all SurfWax users to use. In many ways, this is similar to the collaborative bookmark systems from Backflip, Blink, and others, but with much more information.

SurfWax offers three levels of registration to access SearchSets and InfoCubbies: free, silver and gold.

With the free service, you can create 3 SearchSets, each with 10 Search Sources (for a total of 30 Sources). These Sources can be selected (mixed and matched) at any time from a pool of 250. Your InfoCubby can have up to 20 folders of Search Results for your private use or to share/exchange.

Silver costs $24 US/Year, allowing you to create up to 10 SearchSets, each with 15 Search Sources. These Sources can be selected (mixed and matched) at any time from a pool of 750. Your InfoCubby can have up to 100 folders of Search Results for your private use or to share/exchange.

Gold is $60 US/Year, allowing up to 25 SearchSets, each with 15 Search Sources. These Sources can be selected (mixed and matched) at any time from a pool of 1,200. Your InfoCubby can have up to 200 folders of Search Results for your private use or to share/exchange.

SurfWax is an innovative service that offers a tremendous amount of value for the searcher. It takes some time to fully understand what's offered and how to use it, but the payoff can be well worth the effort. To paraphrase Mae West, too much of a good search engine can be wonderful.


Hang Ten with SurfWax Metasearch
Part 1 of this review: SurfWax is a metasearch engine with some powerful advanced features, including the ability to build your own customized gateways into the Invisible web.

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.