Start Your Own Search Engine

Giant search engines get almost all the publicity these days. But the big news to come may be "personalized" search engines that offer results tailored to your needs.
Giant search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, get almost all the publicity these days. But the big news soon to come, I predict, will be in "personalized" search engines that offer results tailored to your needs.

One of the best examples of this new trend is called a "swicki" -- a search wiki. Experienced Internet users know that a wiki is a Web page or series of pages that a number of different people can contribute to. Meld the wiki concept with a search engine, add a few knowledgeable individuals, and you get something that's far more targeted than any bot-generated index can be.

Eurekster.com -- the company behind a free swicki service -- is far from alone in creating this type of thing, as I explain below. But it offers a fascinating example of the benefits your company or blog might enjoy by creating your very own search index.

Gentlemen, start your engines

Eurekster's swicki is still in an early phase, having entered a public beta only last November. But the service so far looks promising. In a nutshell, anyone can register for free and create a specialized search engine. The resulting swicki then indexes specific sites that the creator feels are the best sources of information on a particular subject.

A company in the health care field, for example, might put together a list of the best resources on general health, a specific disease, or any other aspect of health. A blogger might choose to index his blog and those in his "blogroll" (the list of blogs he reads).

Best of all, the search engine that Eurekster creates will "learn" by observing which links visitors tend to click in the search results. Links that are clicked the most often will be displayed higher in the results in the future, the company says.

The "wiki" aspect of these personalized search engines involves the collective groups that can influence a given topic. Eurekster is developing ways for the creator of a swicki to allow others to rate particular resources as good or bad. Here's how it'll work, according to the company's FAQ page:

Owner ratings, visitor weightings. In this option, whoever sets up a swicki is the only person who can explicitly promote or delete certain pages from the search results. The links clicked by visitors, however, influence their ranking. This is the default option for search engines created with Eurekster's technology. It's also the only option that works today, at this early stage of the beta.

Group ratings and weightings. In a future version of the service, a swicki's creator will be able to allow a number of different people to select Web resources. Everyone's clicks on search results will also influence those links' rankings.

Web-wide ratings and weightings. Another alternative will enable a swicki's owner to open up the resource-selection process to anyone who visits the search engine. This degree of openness is something like the public editability of Wikipedia.org, perhaps the Web's best-known example of collective writing.

Owner influence only. Finally, Eurekster says it's developing an alternative in which only the creator of a swicki is allowed to select Web resources for a particular search engine and affect the ranking of individual links.

Eurekster publishes an online directory that lists hundreds of Web pages that feature swickis made with the beta service. The most popular pages are targeted on such topics as iPods, song lyrics, video games, and other mass consumer interests. But there are also plenty of business-oriented topics, such as a swicki devoted to searches about early-stage venture capital.

A feature that gives swickis extra usefulness is called the "buzz cloud." This is a list of the most popular searches that have been recently typed in. It's not just a text list, though -- the terms show up in larger or smaller fonts depending on their popularity. It's a fun way to see what other people think is worth searching for.

Full disclosure: For the past three years, I've operated my own specialized search engine, called WinFind. It provides results from 15 different reliable sources of information on Microsoft Windows, using technology provided by WebSideStory Search. Swickis are likely to give far more people the ability to create this kind of specialized index by themselves.

Things to look for before you leap

Eurekster plans to make money from swickis by inserting paid advertising. A share of the advertising revenue, in turn, will go to the Web sites that host swickis.

A swicki may not be right for every company. For one thing, at this point in its development, a Web page that offers a swicki feature must include Eurekster's domain name. For instance, if you create a swicki called "peanut-butter," the Web page where searches can be entered must be located at peanut-butter-swicki.eurekster.com.

As I mentioned above, Eurekster isn't unique in trying to personalize the search-engine concept. As a matter of fact, I expect the field to get quite crowded before a few winners (and a number of losers) are crowned by the marketplace.

Other companies with build-your-own-search-engine models include:

Rollyo, which has several celebrity search-topic creators and allows anyone to name up to 25 Web sites that should be included in a specialized search engine;

Prefound, which invites "featured finders" to help rank resources that should appear on given search topics; and

Dumbfind, which allows users to add "tags" to define or locate particular subsets of search results.

If you've ever used a giant search engine and were frustrated because the results you were looking for didn't show up in the first 10 results, gnash your teeth no more. Simply make up a search engine that uses the sites you find valuable and search that index instead. If you link to your swicki from your own site, your visitors may find it such a valuable service that they actually return more often.






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