AltaVista's Refine Feature

AltaVista's Refine Feature

From The Search Engine Report
Oct. 5, 1997

AltaVista's Refine function is a means of refining searches by dynamically relating web pages to various search terms. Previously, Refine was known as AltaVista LiveTopics and made available in a slightly different way.

To use Refine, simply search for anything, as normal. When the results appear, select the Refine button. You'll be presented with a list of "topics," which are different groups of words related to what you are searching for. (This was previously the "Topic Words" view with LiveTopics).

For example, if you searched for Bill Clinton, you might see:

71% Clinton, presidential, president, campaign, candidates
40% Republican, republicans, dole, democrats, gop, gingrich, democratic, newt, bob
22% Reform, welfare, illegal, immigrants, families, immigration, recipients, poverty, afdc
18% Hillary, governor, clintons, whitewater, rodham, arkansas, scandal, starr, mcdougal

You can then choose to search again, this time by adding or excluding one or more of the topics listed. AltaVista gives each topic a percentage, to show how relevant it believes the topic is to your search. However, it's really up to you to decide which is the best topic to use.

So, if you wanted to know about the Whitewater scandal, you might choose the topic at the bottom. However, if you wanted to know about Bill Clinton's political reforms, selecting the third topic might be useful.

You can choose more than one topic, but it's best not to choose too many. You may narrow a search so much that few results are found.

You can also choose to see a graphic view of related search terms. After using Refine, you'll see a "Graph" button in the top, right-hand corner of the topic list. Select this button, and you'll be presented with a graphical view of words linked to the main terms. (This was previously the Topic Relationships map with LiveTopics).

The Graph View also lets you pick individual words to add to your search, rather than the entire topic list. If you like the Graph View, you can set it to be your default display by using the Preferences link, below.

More Information

Refine Search Help

AltaVista Preferences Control Panel

LiveTopics: Love It or Hate It?
LiveTopics was the previous incarnation of Refine. When it first appeared, there was a lively discussion in different places about those who liked it and those who didn't.

Syntactic Clustering of the Web

A very technical paper that explains how relationships like those created with Refine are made.