Searchopolis Offers Kid-Friendly Search

Last month I wrote briefly that Searchopolis, a new kid safe search engine, had opened in beta. This month, I have more details about how the filtered search service works.

Searchopolis is backed by N2H2, a Seattle-based firm notable for the Internet filtering service that it provides to schools and businesses. That service, called Bess, works with proxy servers to prevent access to sites that have been identified as objectionable or off-limits.

Human editors identify sites for the block list, and these are classified into 30 different categories of objectionable content. These includes sites about pornography and hate talk, or sites that may be banned by employers because of productivity issues, such as sports and job hunting sites. Categorization gives filtering customers a wide degree of choice over what to block, and even what time of day to block it.

N2H2's clients are mostly schools, and despite filtering, they were finding that a kid safe search engine was needed. That's because in response to innocent searches, objectionable sites were appearing in the results at the major search services -- complete with graphic descriptions.

N2H2's filtering package kept children from actually reaching these sites, but it did nothing to prevent objectionable material from appearing in search descriptions. That lead the company to consider providing its own search solution.

The company teamed up with Inktomi, which provides the power behind Searchopolis. The brains behind what to filter comes from N2H2's block list, which covers about 8 million web pages. FYI, the company estimates that about 8 percent of the web is pornographic in nature or would be considered objectionable by its standards.

N2H2 provides Inktomi with an updated block list twice a week. It also continually tests Searchopolis, to see if any material may have slipped through.

As a further method of protection, the public version of Searchopolis uses a slight date restriction, so that pages only a day or two old won't immediately appear. Editors use a version without this restriction, which helps them spot problems before the public would even see them. I doubt the restriction will impact the quality of most searches, and it is a fair trade-off to help keep the results clean.

Searchopolis isn't the only filtered, crawler-based search service. AltaVista and Lycos both offer filtering solutions. These put more emphasis on automatically tagging pages as objectionable when they are spidered. In contrast, N2H2 believes its human approach will provide more accurate screening.

"Typically, keyword filters are prone to block out sites that contain that word," said Jim O'Halloran, N2H2's marketing director. "The upshot with the human review is that we overcome that restriction, because our reviewers immediately see what is pornography."

In other words, keyword filters can inadvertently screen out valuable material, such as pages that mention "breast" because they discuss breast cancer treatments. However, AltaVista has said its filtering software is smart enough to let "good" pages through. And both AltaVista and Lycos also make some use of human-compiled block lists.

The Searchopolis results certainly looked very clean, when I ran some test queries. Those looking for kid safe search will welcome it as a new option to choose from.

Searchopolis also has a partnership with LookSmart, which provides a branded-version of its directory for the service. There is nothing expressly kid-oriented about this, in comparison to kid-directories such as Yahooligans and Disney's DIG. But it does provide users the ability to browse sites without encountering vulgar or sexually explicit descriptions.


Kids Search Engines

You'll find services meant to be safe and friendly for children here, including Yahooligans and DIG. Information about AltaVista and Lycos filtering options is also available.