Netscape Search Gets Rebuilt

Netscape Search Gets Rebuilt

From The Search Engine Report
July 6,
1999

Netscape released a new version of its Netscape Search service in June. Previously powered by Excite, the new service now draws on the Open Directory and Google for its listings. It's a powerful combination that makes Netscape Search worth considering among your top search choices.

Netscape Search also integrates information from Netscape's Smart Browsing index. Smart Browsing connects Netscape browser users to web sites when they enter ordinary words into the Location box, where you normally enter a web address.

"We've been building out this database of official web sites and other related content. We've now taken that dataset and made it a core set of search," said Dariusz Paczuski, senior program manager for Netscape Search.

I've always been very impressed with the quality of Smart Browsing results, and integrating the information into Netscape Search makes the service even better. I wish Netscape would finally set up a formal mechanism for site owners to suggest sites for Smart Browsing, however. Netscape says it is working on this, but that's exactly what it said a year ago, when Smart Browsing debuted. How much more time is needed?

You can begin using Netscape Search in three main ways. First, you can go directly to the Netscape site and chose "Netscape Search" as your search option at the top of the home page. Second, those using Netscape's browser can just push the Search button. When the Net Search page appears, select the "Netscape" tab, if it is not already selected. Third, you can go straight to the Netscape Search home page, http://search.netscape.com.

When you do a search, you'll be presented with information from one of several different data sources. First will be "Official Sites," if any relevant matches from the Smart Browsing database are found. For instance, search for "hotmail," and a link to the HotMail web site appears right at the top of the page. Search for "united," and you are shown several "official" web sites that use that word, such as United Airlines and the United Nations.

Next, "Netcenter Pages" may be listed. This is content within the Netscape Netcenter portal site that seems related to your search. For example, a search for "horoscopes" brings up a link to the daily horoscopes page within Netcenter.

"Web Site Categories" shows you any matching categories from the Open Directory that match your query. Search for "star wars," and you'll see links to topics such as Star Wars trading cards and Star Wars action figures. Clicking on a category link displays a list of sites relevant to that category.

For those unfamiliar with the Open Directory, it is essentially a Yahoo run by volunteer editors. These editors, over 12,000 of them now, organize web sites into categories. Netscape owns the Open Directory, but it runs it as an ad-free independent site that also offers its data for anyone to use. That's what Lycos did in April -- it began powering its primary results using the Open Directory. Now Netscape Search is also Open Directory-powered.

After categories are displayed, a "Reviewed Web Sites" section of the results page shows selected web sites from within the Open Directory that seem to match your query. So while the example above listed Star Wars-related categories, the Reviewed Web Sites section displays individual Star Wars sites, such as fan sites.

At the very bottom of the results page, you'll see an option to get "Additional Results" from the Google search engine. Just click on the link, and your query will be sent to Google. Netscape will also do this automatically if it fails to find any matches from within its Smart Browsing or Open Directory information.

Google, unlike the other major crawler-based search engines, makes extremely heavy use of link popularity to rank web sites. Many users rave about Google's relevancy, and I've also continued to be impressed with how on target it can be.

An odd thing is that earlier in June, Netscape-owner AOL announced an agreement for Inktomi to power its various search services. So why wasn't Inktomi chosen for AOL-owned Netscape Search? There was no clear answer on this from Netscape, other than Inktomi would be involved in AOL-related search elsewhere.

"I think you'll see a number of announcements coming up where Inktomi will be involved," said David Beckwith, senior director of search for Netscape.

As for why Google was selected, Netscape was foremost impressed with its results. "We are interested in their technology. We are interested in seeing how they play out as a partners and how that could impact other things we want to do, Beckwith said. "Netscape seemed a place where we could start with them and see how it goes."

Users can also browse listings at Netscape Search by starting out at one of the top level categories listed on the home page The home page also lists "Hot Topics" along the right-hand side of the page, which take you directly to popular categories such as "MP3" and "Britney Spears." Topics are changed from week-to-week, Netscape says.

The Netcenter portal itself has also changed. Previously, its channels were mostly filled with content provided by Excite. Now Netscape says it has replaced this with content from other partners and from AOL. Within the channels, you'll also see a "Search Categories" section that will take you into relevant portions of Netscape Search.

FYI, if you compare a category in Netscape Search to the identical one at the Open Directory, you may notice some slight differences. This is because the Open Directory will always be slightly more up-to-date than Netscape Search.

In other changes, the line-up on the Netscape Net Search page has changed. Gone are AltaVista and Infoseek, though the latter remains a search option from the home page. Yahoo is also gone, and a "Where's Yahoo" link has appeared in its place. That takes you to a long page that explains how Netscape Search now has categorized results like Yahoo.

The page does eventually link to Yahoo, but it would seem more user friendly just to keep Yahoo on the Net Search page in a secondary position, whether they pay for it or not, if that's what users are expecting. It's similar to what happens when you search at Lycos for Yahoo -- a page promoting Lycos appears, instead. These things feel a bit too much like a marketing intrusion into the editorial for my taste, though to Netscape's credit, if you actually search for Yahoo using Netscape Search, the Yahoo site appears at the top of the list.

Netscape Search
http://search.netscape.com/

Open Directory
http://dmoz.org/

Lycos Transforms Into Directory
The Search Engine Report, May 1999
http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/99/05-lycos.html

Background about Lycos using the Open Directory and the Open Directory itself.

Google
http://www.google.com/

Counting Clicks and Looking at Links
The Search Engine Report, Aug. 1998
http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/9808-clicks.html

Background about Google.

Netscape's Smart Browsing Matures
The Search Engine Report, April 5, 1999
http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/99/04-netscape.html

How Netscape's Smart Browsing works.

Netscape Net Search Page
http://home.netscape.com/escapes/search/

Where's Yahoo Page
http://home.netscape.com/escapes/search/wheres_yahoo.html