It's always an interesting challenge writing a new column for a magazine, be it an electronic or hardcopy publication, particularly if the column itself isn't new, as is the case here. I've always been an enthusiastic reader of the things that Tracy Stanley (previous regular contributor to this column - Editor) has written, and I'll do my best to also bring you something of interest.
I'd like to begin by pointing you towards a search engine that I use on a regular basis, called the Internet Sleuth (to be found at http://www.isleuth.com/) but strangely, it is one that few other people seem to have discovered, so I'd like to put that right. The Sleuth is an interesting search engine, which falls into the category of a multi or meta search engine. That is to say that you can input your search criteria, choose your search engines, and it will then go off, run the search for you and display the results for you in search engine order. In this respect, it is reasonably limited, since unlike some other search engines it does not de-dup the sites it returns, and it doesn't put them into some sort of sensible order in the way that Inference Find does for example. However, it does list search engines in a variety of different categories, which does allow the user to focus a search much more closely. These categories include:
Consequently, it is a useful place to begin your search if you're not entirely sure of which of the many search engines is the best one for you. Importantly, this engine works quickly, and I really do mean quickly; it has an option for how long it should take interrogating the search engines you choose, from 10 seconds to 2 minutes, with the default at 1 minute (which is the option that I go with), but I've usually got results on my screen in about 15-20 seconds. Results are returned arranged by search engine, and a downside of the Sleuth is that you really do need to pick your way slowly through the page it returns, since it can be quite long if you choose to search a lot of engines in one go. A little navigation bar wouldn't go amiss, but as the search results are returned so quickly I'm already ahead of the game, so I won't miss those extra few seconds it takes to scroll through the page.
Figure 1: The Internet Sleuth Interface
So far, so good. Nothing spectacular I hear you say. True enough, but let's move on a little. The real power of the Sleuth is in the fact that it can provide you with access to over three thousand different search engines. No, that's not a typo on my part, I really did write 'over three thousand different search engines'. If you visit the site, pay particular attention to the left hand side of the search screen. This lists subjects arranged in a Yahoo! type approach, starting with Arts and Humanities, Business, down through Government, Health, Internet and finishing up with Society and Culture, Sports finally and Travel. Under each of these major categories you will find more specific divisions, and in some cases it is possible to drill down several levels.
Just looking at the Business section, you can choose to move down to Business Directories/Finance/Markets & Investments/Company reports & News and then have eleven different search engines to choose from! Now, at this point, I really should make the point that these search engines do tend to be limited to just one single site, rather than searching across the range of web pages that you would expect something like AltaVista to do. However, that isn't necessarily a disadvantage, since a lot of the data held on these site specific databases isn't going to be indexed by AltaVista and the like anyway.
Consequently, the Internet Sleuth allows you to quickly locate search engines in particular fields and to find the information you require, even if you didn't know about the existence of the engines two minutes before starting your search.
The value of the Sleuth doesn't end there however. The site encourages people to establish their own bulletin boards or 'assemblies' in Sleuth talk. I have to admit this is not a service that I've personally used, but I can see how it could be very useful, particularly if linked into an existing web page.
Other features are also available: a useful (if somewhat short) page on search techniques referring to Alta Vista, HotBot, Infoseek and WebCrawler, shopping facilities and the ubiquitous free email facility.
If you've not tried the Sleuth, please do - I can almost guarantee that you'll find at least one or two new search engines that will be of value to you that you never knew existed before!
On to other matters now. For those of you who find it difficult to get listed on Yahoo! you might be interested in the fact that it has introduced an express service for listings, together with a suite of other utilities for small businesses. The advantage is that a site will be reviewed within a week and given a yes or no response, with the disadvantage being that you may still not get listed, despite having paid out money!
Buyouts, mergers and partnerships gather apace on the Internet, with search engines being right at the forefront. AltaVista has bought a share in Virage Inc. which is a video search engine. Once the software is up and running, it will mean that users of the system will be able to search for, find and then display portions of videos that they are interested in. I prefer not to consider the copyright implications at this particular moment, thanks all the same! This isn't an entirely unexpected move, given that Alta Vista now has oodles of cash as a result of its purchase by Compaq.
Finally, the jargon term of the month is 'sticky site' and they are something that you'll be hearing a lot more about in the future. The idea is to attempt to ensure that once someone visits your site they are going to stay for as long as possible. Yahoo! recently bought Geocities for $3 billion in order to link users more closely to Yahoo! It certainly seems to be working, since users are now spending over an hour on average at Yahoo (per month) instead of 40 minutes. It would be nice if search engines were attempting to become sticky by improving the sophistication of their search utilities, but perhaps that is hoping for just a little bit too much!
Phil Bradley is an Internet Consultant, Trainer, Web designer and Author. His website is available at http://www.philb.com/. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Phil is author of The Advanced Internet Searchers Handbook published by LA Publications.