Saturday, February 19, 2005

search engines, toolbars and more

i've spent all morning playing with search engines and toolbars. it had been a while since i'd checked out the various major search engines and i figured it was time for the all-powerful "me" search test. for those who don't know, this my term for when you plug your name into a search engine and see what comes up :)

so i went to the big three: google, msn and yahoo. i searched for my name in quotes, took a look at the results and what follows is my analysis on these engines based on their current performance:

yahoo was the only search engine to come up with this blog as the first result; this blog was number two on google and somehow, i'm not anywhere to be found on msn at all. all three engines return a large number of other random sites that have made commentary on the events of the past month, so i consider them equal at delivering the background noise that makes the web so great. jeremy must be pretty popular, since his account of meeting me ranks in the top few entries at each engine, but scoble seems a bit less popular. thus, in my opinion, yahoo beats out google ever so slightly in relevancy. figure in that yahoo also has cool features like links to my RSS feed and guess what? google is no longer my default search engine. hats off to yahoo.

for those of you wondering: no, the fact that google canned me didn't factor into my decision. i still use gmail and google maps; i simply use whatever i think is the best solution for what i'm trying to accomplish. the exception to that rule might be blogger, but i'm doing my research on that as well ;)

although as far as all three search engines are concerned, i have to ask: where are the "wow!" bits? it seems to me that there's a lot of cool functionality that could be delivered but is currently missing today. for example, what about pre-fetching search results? or what about allowing me to tag results? searching is great, but i'd also love the ability to sort - sort by date, sort by author, sort by popular demand, etc. msn's got a great general idea with their search builder feature, but the options currently in there leave a lot to be desired. where are yahoo and google on this front?

i'm not saying these options should all be there by default - after all, we still have to consider people without broadband - but i wish i had these features at my disposal.

switching gears, nowadays you can't really do an analysis of search engines without running into their partners in crime, browser toolbars. so i also downloaded each engine's toolbar as well.

diverging a bit, there's been a lot of controversy in the past few days about the new autolink feature in google toolbar 3 beta. normally as far as i'm concerned, if it makes the user's life easier, it's overall goodness. however, in this case, i see where it sparks up a healthy debate.

although autolink is an optional feature and a user actually has to both enable it and click on it before it does anything to a page, it is very scary that it modifies the page so that the link is almost indistinguishable from other links on the page - aside from a tiny change in the mouse cursor. while i wouldn't go as far as calling this webpage hijacking nor will i get into that argument, i would comment that it is rather convenient that the default mapping service is google maps. although i can change that option, i think it's pretty obvious that a majority of users just live with the default. given the outcry against microsoft setting as the default homepage, i find it ironic that google would resort to the same strategy. i'm really curious as to whether the public will simply let this one go, much like they turned a blind eye to the privacy concerns brought against gmail.

what i think might be interesting is if google positions autolink much like vibrant media's intellitxt, an advertising service that adds sponsored links onto specific keywords on a page. for intellitxt, the publisher voluntarily signs up and allows their webpage to get hijacked for a cut of the click through revenue. if autolinks were only available when publishers specifically allowed it and the publishers got some sort of kick back for the links, maybe they would shift their opinions on the feature ;).

the whole autolink feature aside, the google toolbar has a few other nifty features such as being able to navigate through search results without returning to the result page and going up a directory level on the current site. i almost thought they had overlooked page translation, but then realized they had slipped it into the context menu - not where i would think to look for it. the only thing that's blatantly missing is a mozilla/firefox version, which i have to assume is in the works.

next up was the yahoo toolbar. the only major toolbar that currently has a mozilla/firefox version, it brings some unique features to the table as well. specifically, the yahoo toolbar has a ton of content tie-in buttons - there are buttons for each major sports league, shopping research sites and even one for "the apprentice." there were so many options, it was almost overkill.

in contrast, msn's toolbar is almost a lesson in understatement. the current version of msn toolbar serves up basic functionality pretty well, but seems to lack most of the bells and whistles other toolbars provide. i also tried the beta, but from what i could tell, it just added a link to msn spaces and packaged desktop search with it (i know you can install just the toolbar, but i wanted to check out the full experience). one thing i thought was nifty was that with the new msn toolbar, you can specify default search settings such as how you want to view results, your location and your default language. in general, i like msn's clean interface and neat integration with their desktop search offering. however, i do wish that using the deskbar's web search wouldn't open up a browser window; i think it should just show results in the little preview pane.

i have to wonder if google and yahoo are also thinking about packaging their tools together like msn has. it seems to be a pretty logical step...

anyways, after a morning of playing with this stuff, i now have way too many toolbars in internet explorer. i use firefox most of the time though, so i'm safe from the toolbar clutter and yahoo toolbar wins by default.

all this exploration got me thinking: are toolbars the future? what happened to the idea of rich functionality through browsers? i wouldn't be surprised if internet explorer 7 had most of the msn toolbar features built-in, which would severely diminish the value of these other toolbars. additionally, although google maps proves that hacking dhtml can produce good results, is that really the way to go? i would happily download a new browser if it meant getting a richer google or yahoo experience, but maybe that's just me. msn seems to be with me here (they provide a full fledged msn explorer), but they are still ramping up on a lot of the cool services google and yahoo already provide. will i fire up a google or yahoo browser one day? i hope so.


Blogger Lyle said...

For some reason, MSN's search isn't linking to *anything* that's hosted on

Just so you know why this didn't come up on MSN search at all.

2/22/2005 08:42:00 AM  

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