Lycos Adds Predetermined Listings

Lycos Adds Predetermined Listings

From The Search Engine Report
Dec. 4, 1997

Lycos quietly began top ranking some of its own pages for searches of common words in November 1997.

Do a search for some popular terms, such as "travel," "sports" or "games," and the first result that appears is a relevant Lycos web guide.

For example, a search for "internet" lists the Lycos Computer Guide first, which is channel-oriented page with web reviews, news, chat links and other information relating to computers.

To date, these type of keyword-linked suggestions to other content within a search engine's offerings have been made outside of the actual web page listings area.

For example, a search for "internet" on Excite will bring up a box called "Try This First" that prefaces the actual listings, but which is not part of them. Inside the box are various links, including one to the Excite Computers & Internet Channel.

Likewise, at Infoseek, the same search brings up related links in the left-hand column of the screen, while the main right-hand column remains devoted to actual search results.

Lycos goes beyond this by purposely pre-ranking its own pages in the listings themselves. Search engines have been loath to tamper with actual listings like this for a variety of reasons.

Open Text garnered bad publicity when it experimented with selling listings in the middle of last year. However, beyond this, search engines deflect the incredible pressure they feel from corporations and others to provide preferential listings by leaving results entirely to their algorithms.

Unfortunately for searchers, the algorithms face increasing pressure from spammers, or even the sheer number of legitimately relevant documents available. A search for "travel" is so generic that it can match many things. Because of this, Lycos is probably providing search engines users with what they are looking for by prelisting its own guides.

A good example of user confusion is a story that Excite likes to tell of how it was experimenting with its interface. A page was created with a search box and an HTML link directly underneath entitled "Microsoft Stocks." Users were then asked how they would search for Microsoft stocks. Most people ignored the link and instead gravitated to the search box, entering "microsoft stocks" as the search term.

By anticipating what a user is searching for and preferentially ranking certain pages, a search engine may thus better serve those who assume that keyword searching is the only way to find things. It can also be an excellent way to eliminate the spam problem that occurs for common, popular words.

For example, a search for "sex" with Lycos shows the top ten results dominated by manufactured pages from three web sites. Even at Infoseek, which has done the most to eliminate duplicate pages from dominating results, spammers have resorted to slight variations of domain names or multiple domains in order to claw their way to the top and keep others out.

But back at Lycos, that same search for "sex" is now prefaced by a link to the Lycos Supermodel guide. There's no reason Lycos or the other search engines couldn't preselect an entire top ten or top twenty list for these type of terms. Other search engines have hinted at doing this.

This type of action would immediately drop the incentive to spam, since relatively few people make it past the first page or two or results. Nor would search engine users likely to be disappointed by preselected listings. If anything, they will probably be grateful for this type of editing.

Of course, the idea may sound shocking to some webmasters, but relatively few sites are ever found for a single word, especially the popular ones. There's incredible competition for these terms, so the impact will mainly be against those who regularly engage in extreme measures to come up tops. Almost all multi-word queries would continue to be listed without preselection, leaving plenty of opportunity for web sites to be found.

The real complaints are likely to arise if preselection becomes tied to sales. Here, users may feel they aren't being provided with the best information, either according to an algorithm or an editor, but instead according to the bottom line. And in one case, Lycos is showing this type of preference. A search for "autos" or "cars" brings up this listed first:

CarPoint: Reviews, dealer invoices, more
Microsoft CarPoint: Complete guide to cars by make and model.
[Score: 100%”

There is no way the Lycos algorithm is kicking that listing up first -- it is clearly preferential, and the src=lycos ending the demonstrates this. That indicates to Microsoft, which runs CarPoint, that the visitor has come from Lycos. Possibly, some revenue sharing accompanies this traffic redirection.

Here, the issue of preferential listing becomes more dubious. Other major car sites are not getting an editorial boost. Nor is the link instead to a Lycos web guide. All this makes it likely that the preferential listing not originating in the users best interest but rather in the interest of Lycos.

A somewhat similar situation happens with "porn," which lists a Lycos chat area first. Here, Lycos is hijacking the popular term to benefit its chat area. But unlike with the Carpoint example, users probably won't complain and those operating porn sites aren't likely to gather a lot of sympathy.

Lycos says that the listing changes are part of a new strategy that will be announced at next week's Internet World. It also said that the preferential link treatment is still under development. They may be separated from the main listings in the future, more akin to how Excite and Infoseek are handling their suggested links. That will certain mute criticism in cases such as the CarPoint listing.

Lycos has also added a new way of ranking pages that depends on people. Within its community guides, recommended sites appear in response to ratings from its users.

To see this is action, visit a guide, such as the Internet Guide, below. A series of sub-guides will be displayed under Community Guides heading, such as "Spam In Your Mailbox." From this (or any) subguide, a series of web sites is displayed.

When you visit one of these sites, a small Lycos-related frame appears at the top of the screen. Here, users rate whether they like or dislike the site. The ratings influence what the WiseWire-powered spider seeks as new finds.


Lycos Internet Guide

Lycos Community Help

Read how new sites are found and rated for the community guides.