HotBot is Hot Once Again

HotBot has been redesigned for the power searcher, delivering, speed, control, and a unified interface to four of the web's best search engines.

When it first arrived on the web scene in 1996, HotBot offered sophisticated advanced search capabilities and a greater degree of control than most other search engines. With these sophisticated features, HotBot rapidly gained a reputation as the search engine of choice for power users.

When HotBot's parent Wired Digital was acquired by Lycos in 1998, HotBot's reputation had begun to fade, and until recently it has been something of a neglected stepchild compared to its more popular sibling. With this week's relaunch of HotBot, that's all changed.

The new HotBot is aimed squarely at power searchers, who want the maximum degree of control over their search results. Remarkably, this control has been designed to be available even with a notably streamlined and even sparse user interface.

The most significant change is that HotBot is now effectively a unified front-end for the search catalogs of Google, FAST, Inktomi and Teoma. You select which catalog you want to search with radio buttons above the search form. After entering your search terms and seeing results from your selected engine, you can easily view the results from the others just by clicking their respective radio buttons.

This isn't meta search -- HotBot is simply returning results from each selected engine in turn. However, it's a terrific way to quickly compare the results of these four search catalogs without having to go to their home pages. "What we think we've done here is add an interim step," said Tom Wilde, general manager of search services for Terra Lycos. "Rather than redoing your query, you now get a quick lateral comparison to check out your query."

Why individual result pages from each engine, rather than meta search? "The problem with meta search is that there's a little bit less control," said Wilde. "You can't control the order, or the blending of the search results. Unless you understand the blending you're not quite sure about the relevance you're seeing."

True to its heritage, the new HotBot has a ton of advanced search capabilities. Better still, these are specific to the particular engine you have selected to search.

HotBot calls the advanced search functions "web filters," and they are available both for individual searches, through the advanced search page, or as preferences that can be set for all searches. In addition, you can set preferences both for how searches are performed and for how results are displayed.

Your preferences are displayed in a list on HotBot's home page, below the search form. You can easily change them for each search, minimize or maximize them to control clutter, or remove them by clicking the "X" box to the right of the filter.

HotBot's advanced features include:

- 47 languages
- File type filters including images, pdf's java, MSOffice, Shockwave, Flash and more
- World region filters such as Europe, North America, Oceania, Africa, etc.
- Date filtering
- Offensive content filtering
- Page region filtering
- Domain filtering

If a particular search engine doesn't support an advanced feature, you'll get a error message in your results alerting you that the filter wasn't applied.

Also new is the capability to "skin" HotBot with cascading style sheets, changing the look and feel to suit your own tastes. In addition to four skins available with a single click, HotBot has provided extensive documentation to help you through the process if you want to create your own skin.

The redesign is specific to the web site. International users won't see changes to the country-specific versions of HotBot available in Europe, as they are controlled by a separate organization, according to Wilde.

Wilde says that the relaunch of HotBot is just the first of several planned improvements to the search engine. "This first release is focused on refreshing the product and delivering a really clean and powerful index," he said.

In 2003 Wilde says HotBot will be enhanced in a couple of areas. While declining to provide specifics, Wilde said that personalization is one area that the company is focusing on. He emphasized that it will be user-controlled personalization, rather than automated processes that might give rise to privacy concerns.

By providing easy access to four of the web's most powerful search engines, combined with flexible and powerful filtering capabilities, the newly reinvigorated HotBot has regained its position as an essential tool for all serious web searchers.


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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.