If you approach the Web as a library rather than a shopping mall, video arcade, or discussion
circle, you need some way of quelling the riot of information you’ll find there.
Portals such as Yahoo are one attempt to make the Web more manageable, aggregating content and
services in the hope that you’ll stick around. But you’re often better off surfing beyond their narrow
For some years now, search sites have tried to bring order to the Web’s anarchic abundance. But
serving up just the information you’re looking for (and avoiding the litter of irrelevancy) is a tall
order. And even the best search sites penetrate only so far into the Web’s awesome depths. As a result
of these problems, some of information technology’s best minds have been working at overcoming the
limitations of the Web searches that we have been doing thus far.
Two Ends of the Spectrum
Among the more interesting developments in this area, ironically, are sites that downplay
technology in favor of the human touch.
At Allexperts.com, at http://www.allexperts.com, you first drill down to the category of
information you’re interested in, such as insurance or photography. Then you select a volunteer, based
upon his or her profile, who will receive your inquiry. More than 1,500 volunteers work with the site,
providing answers free of charge. If you need more comprehensive service, volunteers can offer
themselves as consultants for a fee.
Similar new search sites that go against the grain of increasing mechanization include
XpertSite.com, at http://www.xpertsite.com, and ExpertCentral.com, at http://www.expertcentral.com.
Human help, however, does have its drawbacks. At Allexperts.com, it may take a day or two to
receive your answer. Also, despite the site’s name, the volunteers aren’t necessarily experts.
Allexperts.com says that many are professionals, but it doesn’t verify their credentials.
If the people approach isn’t for you, you might want to try the opposite. YourCompass.com, athttp://www.yourcompass.com, strives for total automation. This new site tracks your searches and when
you visit again alerts you to sites it thinks you’re interested in before you ask. This may sound
Orwellian, but the site promises not to share your personal information with third parties.
Other Issues Involved
Privacy isn’t the only concern people have these days about the Web. For instance,
commercialization has become the norm, and you have to be wary with some search sites. Consider, for
example, TitanSearch.com, a new search site at http://www.titansearch.com. It openly promises that
other sites who advertise will receive prominent placement in search results, “with the advertiser’s
page on the top three pages 100% of the time, and on the top page one-third of the time.”
People also worry about exposing themselves or their children to inappropriate material on the
Web. If you search at a typical search site for the White House, among the sites it returns may be
those displaying what you might see in a cathouse.
SurfMonkey.com, at http://www.surfmonkey.com, is a new search site and portal for kids that’s
designed to filter out porn and other no-no’s. To use it, you download either a small add-on program
for Microsoft Internet Explorer or a proprietary browser. Ah-ha.com, at http://www.ah-ha.com, is
another new kid-safe search site.
The popular general-interest search sites are hard at work to improve relevancy in search results.
HotBot, at http://www.hotbot.com, which was designated as the best all-around search site by PC
Magazine, now includes a popularity engine. Click on “Top 10 sites…” after it displays its first
screen of findings.
One innovative site that’s garnered much kudos lately is Northern Light, athttp://www.northernlight.com. It distinguishes itself by its accurate Web search results, which are
free, and its full-text database of articles from newspapers and magazines, which generally cost $1 to
$4 per article. A new feature periodically alerts you via e-mail when it finds information you’ve
And recently much has been made about how no search site indexes the entire Web. If you’re looking
for very specific information, one way around this is to use a “metasearch” site, which piggybacks on
other search sites and combines their results. The best overall is ProFusion, athttp://www.profusion.com.
If you’re looking for information on broad topics, Yahoo, at http://www.yahoo.com, remains the
best and most popular choice. On the other hand, if this article stirred your interest and you want to
delve more deeply into the topic of Web searching, two good sites are Search Engine Watch, athttp://www.searchenginewatch.com, and Search IQ, at http://www.searchiq.com.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the
Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org orhttp://members.home.net/reidgold.
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|This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor December, 1999, and is reprinted with
permission of Publishers Marketing Association.