Search Engine Scuttlebutt

What's going on over at AltaVista? Is HotBot's add URL function dead? How does Yahoo's search algorithm work? These are just a few of the topics of discussion going on at the Search Engine Forums site -- a great place to follow the scuttlebutt attending your favorite web search tools.

The word "scuttlebutt" originally described a cask that supplied drinking water aboard sailing ships. Like today's modern office water cooler, the scuttlebutt was the place onboard ship where sailors could exchange news, gossip and opinions. That's exactly what goes on at Search Engine Forums.

The site offers nearly three dozen forums to choose from. The most popular forums, naturally, are those dedicated to major search engines or directories. The AltaVista and Yahoo forums have by far the most traffic. The forums dedicated to Excite, Google, HotBot, LookSmart, Lycos and the other major search services draw fewer postings, but are still relatively active.

Each forum is moderated by an expert. And though anyone is free to read postings, anyone wishing to post messages to a forum must register. You don't need to register using your real name, but you must provide your actual email address to receive a password to activate your membership.

Every new participant begins as a "junior member," and this is noted together with the date that you joined when you post to a forum. The IP address of each poster is also logged, so there's a certain level of accountability built in to the system that keeps the forums on-topic and very low in spam.

The primary community of users at Search Engine Forums appear to be webmasters and search engine optimization and marketing folks. Many of the postings are concerned with the holy grail of "achieving high traffic." Others discuss the issues of spam and the never-ending struggle between the engines and the nefariously inventive "spamdexers" who try to subvert the indexes with bogus content.

Even if you're not a webmaster and your primary interest is in learning to be a better searcher, the Search Engine Forums offer a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the search engine world. If an engine hasn't updated its index recently, for example, or if there's been an unannounced change to a relevance ranking algorithm, you can be sure someone will post a message about it.

That doesn't necessarily mean that the information is reliable. In fact, there will occasionally be a post that's laughably inaccurate or off the mark. When this happens, it's typically refuted by a senior member or moderator. This can lead to some interesting and entertaining fireworks as other members jump into the fray.

In addition to doling out a good thrashing to the hapless poster, though, most members try to bolster their arguments with facts or personal observations about how search engines work. Many of these people are experienced professionals, so their contributions are worth noting.

So the next time you're looking for some interesting, enlightening, or just plain amusing scuttlebutt about search engines, go hang out at the water cooler at Search Engine Forums.

Search Engine Forums
When you visit this bulletin board, you will see a link at the top of the list of forums called "Daily Active Topic List". Clicking on this will provide you with a list of topics in all open (non private) forums that have been posted to that day.

Web Search Forum
Discuss a wide range of searching topics at this forum on, hosted by Web Search Guide Kevin Elliott.

An email mailing list dedicated to discussing search engine issues. The link above points to the archives; click on the "join" link at the top of the page to subscribe.


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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.