Infoseek Gets New Look, New Life

Infoseek Gets New Look, New Life

From The Search Engine Report
Nov. 5, 1997

Infoseek tuned into channels on Oct. 20, and its facelift announced visually that Infoseek is back as a force to be reckoned with.

Infoseek was never really gone. Media Metrix has rated it the third most popular search engine since May of this year, and the gap between it and second place Excite has narrowed dramatically since July.

RelevantKnowledge put it second in its August release, and Infoseek's drop to third in September was due to a change that combines Excite and WebCrawler traffic.

Despite Infoseek's popularity, analysts were discouraged earlier this year by management changes and a seeming lack of direction. There was a lot of doom-and-gloom that made it sound like Infoseek was on its last legs.

Now, recent moves are making even the analysts happy. A PR push has enlightened journalists to the service's popularity. The new channel format puts Infoseek alongside its competitors in the next generation of search presentation. New retailing partnerships have been announced, which should please those looking for Infoseek to bring in revenue beyond banners.

As if to punctuate its return, Infoseek's first television ads aired last Sunday during the X-Files season premiere in the US. They were quite funny, spotlighting two thugs who wanted to know how their captive knew so much about them. "Infoseek," the poor soul tried to tell the dim-witted duo, his words blocked by tape over his mouth.

Infoseek's new channel format has a lot to offer searchers. It rivals Excite in terms of breadth and compelling organization. Infoseek's channels also goes beyond Excite by dynamically appearing in response to certain searches.

When you enter Infoseek, you can choose to browse a channel, in the way you used to browse its directory listings (which are now part of the channels). Selecting Entertainment, for example, brings up a page with news headlines, web sites, links to chat areas about entertainment, and more.

The same thing occurs if you choose Excite's Entertainment channel. But with Infoseek, channels also appear as part of the search process.

Imagine that you search for "movies." Infoseek will place what it calls a "channel wrapper" around your results. In this case, the Entertainment wrapper is used.

Down the left-hand side of the page are samples of some of the content available on the full Entertainment channel page. However, search results remain the focus. In this way, channel content can suggest alternative sources of information without interfering with the actual search results.

"Our competitors still have the search and browse functionality isolated from each other, and we feel very strongly that search and browse are kissing cousins," said Infoseek Executive Producer Lynn Forbes.

Infoseek creates the wrappers by mapping certain phrases to certain channels. So "airlines" brings up the Travel Channel wrapper, while "computer" brings up the Computer channel. Of course, not all words are mapped. "Cheese," for example, just brings up a generic wrapper, though related directory topics, company pages and news stories do appear in the left-hand column.

Infoseek's best innovation is its results clustering, which will be more familiar as the "More results from this site..." message that appears at below some listings.

In the past, it was easy for some sites to dominate the top ten search results, either inadvertently, because they had many relevant pages, or intentionally, through spamming attempts. Infoseek's clustering is a unique way to sidestep the problem, and its completely unmatched by any other search engine.

After a search is performed, Infoseek looks through the top pages of results to see if any site appears more than once. If so, then it lists only one page from that site and makes the rest available through the "More results" link.

As a result, it's harder for any one site to dominate the top results. It's a benefit to searchers, who obviously would like to see more options in one glance. But even webmasters benefit, because it gives them more chance of appearing.

The system isn't perfect. Some spammers use several domains, and I could spot examples where duplicate or near duplicate pages were not summarized. But it is very good -- a real improvement that many people will appreciate.

AltaVista and HotBot also try to combat page domination. However, their efforts are oriented toward duplicate and near-duplicate pages. If they spot these, they will only list one of the pages with a description. The others get their URLs associated with this single listing. They can even do this if the pages reside on different servers.

Excite has a "List by Web site" option, but this isn't mean to eliminate page domination in the top results, as with Infoseek. However, it has a useful purpose. By selecting it, top results are organized by web site, with the web site with the most relevant page coming first. In this way, you can see many more results at the same time and get a sense of which sites may have the broadest content.

Infoseek has a few glitches. It is fighting very hard against spammers by refining its ranking mechanism. That can cause some relatively irrelevant pages to appear in the results of very broad searches. Also, a bug has caused Infoseek to report absurdly low results for some broad searches, such as 50 matches for "real estate." This is supposed to be corrected shortly.

Overall, the changes help Infoseek catch back up with its competition. Old and new users will likely welcome its new look and features.

Infoseek Press Release
Infoseek, Oct 20, 1997

Infoseek Replaces Push With Pull
TechWeb, Oct. 20, 1997