HotLinks: Harnessing Bookmarks For Search

HotLinks: Harnessing Bookmarks For Search

From The Search Engine Report
Jan. 4, 2000
(a longer version is available to site subscribers)

When I first heard about HotLinks, I was dubious. After all, this is a search engine based on using people's bookmarks -- and knowing the clutter and junk within my bookmark list, my assumption was that HotLinks would only magnify the mess.

Now having played with the system, I'm more optimistic about it. HotLinks is not going to replace your favorite search engine, especially when you need to do a comprehensive scan of the web. However, HotLinks is likely to develop into a useful tool for finding golden nuggets that larger search engines may miss.

Bookmarks form the heart of HotLinks. Over 100,000 people to date have opened accounts and imported their saved links into the HotLinks system. It's an easy process, and one that allows you to access your favorites from any computer

All that data is also used to power the new HotLinks Guide, which launched in September. The guide organizes many of the bookmarked links into categories similar to those used by directories such as Yahoo.

HotLinks has far to go before rivaling the major directories in depth, however. For instance, its Travel category is divided into three subcategories. In contrast, Yahoo has nearly 300 travel-related categories.

While HotLinks may not be comprehensive, the smaller scale might make it feel more manageable to some people. For instance, Yahoo has multiple categories stuffed with sites devoted to the Palm -- heaven for any Palm enthusiast. In contrast, HotLinks has a single Palm category that lists just three sites. But those sites are extremely good, and for someone who's looking to get started fast with the Palm, HotLinks probably gets them to the right places faster.

Unfortunately, I'd say this is the exception rather than the rule, for the moment. The service is still so new that oddities stand out. For instance, the second most popular site in the Vacation category is for a Wisconsin vacation homes site. I'm sure Wisconsin is a lovely place to vacation, but I find it hard to believe that this particular site would be so highly rated.

Hopefully, things will improve as the service matures. One potential strength is they way HotLinks ranks sites within categories. Sites are listed in order of "Guide Score," which is the number of bookmarks in the system that point to that particular URL. The more bookmarks there are to a site, the it ranks in a particular category.

In a way, this makes HotLinks similar to Google and other search engines that rely on link data to bring popular sites to the top of results lists. The difference is that instead of looking at links on the web pages, HotLinks makes use of links in bookmark lists.

It also means you might find some good sites that the other services might miss. That's because bookmarking is easy, in comparison to web page publishing. Using links from bookmarks might yield a different set of results than from using links on web pages, and it seems especially likely to bring up some sites that might be otherwise overlooked.

How's the organization done? HotLinks CEO Jonathan Abrams says that software is used that tries to find patterns to automatically assign sites to categories, where possible. Of course, the software isn't perfect -- so HotLinks also has editors involved in the process.

HotLinks isn't the only online bookmark service available, but it is notable for pushing strongly into the search space and for its backing by CMGI, which owns AltaVista and has a stake in Lycos. Thus, it wouldn't be surprising to see some important partnerships with HotLinks emerge in the near future.

HotLinks Guide


Another online bookmark service, though it doesn't offer an associated web-wide search feature, as does HotLinks.

Backflip brings bookmarks to next level
San Jose Mercury News, Dec. 11, 1999

Good review of the BackFlip service.