Direct Hit Debuts Personalized Search

Toward the end of last year, I wrote about the concept of personalized search. This is where search results are custom tailored to your personal profile. Now Direct Hit is making such a system available to its partners.

Direct Hit already provides results that are ranked by user popularity through a variety of venues, with HotBot being best known. There, you can do a search, then choose to view sites ranked in order of user popularity. That popularity is determined by measuring which sites users actually select the search results.

Personalized search goes a step further. Services like Yahoo and Excite already have millions of registered users who have provided basic demographic information such as age, sex and geographical location. Direct Hit's system can marry this type of information to the sites that users choose from search results.

For example, Direct Hit's personalized system can distinguish between the sites that men consider popular in response to the query "flowers," as opposed to what women like. Its limited test system so far shows that results for men are dominated by sites allowing online purchase of flowers, while results for women tend to have more sites providing pictures of flowers or online ordering of seeds.

It's a very powerful concept, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it actually works on a large scale. That may happen if one of Direct Hit's existing partners, or a new partner, picks up the option. The company is optimistic that this may happen in a matter of weeks.

"Right down the list of the top portals, they are all interested," said Direct Hit Chairman Gary Culliss.

The idea of linking search selections to personal profiles may raise privacy issues with some people, but Culliss says any implementation would be anonymous.

"Just as with our popularity engine, the Direct Hit data is totally anonymous. We never know who performs a particular search. We only know that someone with certain demographics performed a particular search," he said.

Direct Hit has also announced a new partnership with LookSmart. The directory is to use Direct Hit's technology to present search results as ranked by user popularity, similar to system at HotBot. The system should go live there next month, Culliss said.

The popularity results themselves have gained a refinement in the form of displaying queries that are related to the main search topic, similar to the system that AltaVista debuted in December.

For example, in a search for "music" at HotBot, the Direct Hit option will display top music sites as ranked by popularity. But above this list, Direct Hit will also show related searches such as "sheet music" and "music videos." The idea is to help the user focus in on exactly what they are looking for.

Here's an update on where Direct Hit technology is in action:

At HotBot, do a search, and if Direct Hit data is available, you'll see text just above the results that says "Top Ten Most Visited Sites." Click on this text, and you'll be presented with the Direct Hit data. Related queries will also be shown, if they are available.

Direct Hit also has a partnership with AOL's ICQ. By default, those running the ICQ99a client can submit a query to the ICQ-powered Inktomi search service. To see Direct Hit results, ICQ users should choose the ICQ IT Most Visited Results option, which appears when clicking on the arrow to the right of the search box.

Mac users running Mac OS 8.5 can access Direct Hit results through the Sherlock search client. The Direct Hit plug-ins can be found within the Apple web site.


Don't have ICQ? You can see ICQ Inktomi-powered results via this site. Direct Hit data, if available, can be found by selecting the link which says "Get the top 10 results visited by ICQ members."

Sherlock Plug-Ins

Counting Clicks and Looking At Links
The Search Engine Report, Aug. 4, 1998

More about how the Direct Hit system works.