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November 3 2008

Google: Bringing Sci-Fi to a SERP near You

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You have probably seen this appear on the search engine results pages (or SERPs) and wondered how your site might go about getting one.   Several months ago Google introduced a search feature it calls “teleporting.”   This feature came as a result of observing that search engine users generally don’t use a site’s URL, but instead enter the site’s name into the Google search engine and use the result at or near the top of the SERP, to get to their destination.   It’s this activity which Google refers to as “teleporting”.   As noted in the Official Google Blog, one of the trends they noticed was that many searchers would issue another, more refined search after their initial site name query.

Based on this behavior, Google determined that their users didn’’t always want the homepage of a website, but rather a deeper level page on the site.   For better searching, Google introduced teleporting, a search-within-a-search marked by the placement of a search box in the results (usually below the Google SiteLinks)   that will let users search within that particular website.   Following is an example for a search on “NASA”.

google-teleport-75  
Figure 1: Example of Google’s Teleport

As shown in the image above, a search for “NASA” not only shows the main homepage link, and the eight Google SiteLink results (Google analyzes the link structure of a site to find shortcuts that will save users time and allow them to quickly find the information they’re looking for), the result also shows a secondary search box.

Previously, the link text “More results from www.nasa.gov »” would appear beneath the Google SiteLinks for a particular result on their SERP.   As of March 2008, the “More results…” link beneath the NASA listing has been replaced with a version of the Google SiteSearch box.   As to how, when and most importantly for whom this SiteSearch box appears is something decided entirely by Google.

As Google stated in their Official Google Blog, “This feature will now occur when we detect a high probability that a user wants more refined search results within a specific site.   Like the rest of our snippets, the sites that display the site search box are chosen algorithmically based on metrics that measure how useful the search box is to users.”

Is there a way for your website to be considered for this search box?   Perhaps one of the best ways is a tried-and-true method of search engine optimization, or SEO: create useful, relevant, keyword-rich content and add this content to existing pages on your site, as well as adding new pages of content.   The more relevant and keyword-rich information you have on your site, the more likely it is that site visitors will search for this information.   If this content is on deeper level pages, site visitors could use more refined searches in Google.   These searches will help for the Google systems to determine if your site is one that would benefit from a refined user search.

September 10 2008

Browser Wars: Enter Googles Chrome

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Google Chrome Logo

Last Tuesday, September 2nd, Google released its open source browser Chrome to an expectant public.   Word of the pending release was inadvertently leaked by the search engine (who also celebrates its tenth birthday this month), raising the level of expectation even higher.

But now that the browser is available for use, what does it offer when compared to other software application such as Microsoft ®’s Internet Explorerâ„¢, Apple ®’s Safari ®, Mozilla ® Foundation’s Firefox ®, and Opera Software’s eponymous Operaâ„¢ browser?

Before we detail some of the features of Chrome, we should first mention the slight issue with Chrome’s initial end-user licensing agreement (EULA).   Google removed the portion of its EULA for Google Chrome that caused users concern.   The term stated that Google would retain, “[…]a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence [sic] to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”   This language was almost immediately replaced with:

“[…]You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”

Unfortunately, the EULA matter wasn’t the only hiccup of note for Chrome.   On Wednesday the U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT) issued a warning to Chrome users about a potential security risk in the new browser’s default settings.

US-CERT notes that the browser’s default settings accept all downloads without prompting users.   This allows for the possibility of an attacker placing malicious applications on a user’s system without any previous warning.   In addition, downloaded files can be opened with a single click, which could allow a user to inadvertently open a malicious file.   US-CERT advises users to turn on the “Ask where to save each file before downloading” option within the “Minor Tweaks” tab in the browser preferences in order to mitigate the security risk.

So, now that users are more comfortable with downloading and installing Chrome, and now that they know how to better safeguard themselves from potential risks, how is Chrome a better browser?

To start with, Google’s Chrome is fast, feature-rich and stable.   Then there are Google’s in-house innovations like JavaScript handling, the multi-threaded engine, and the task manager.   And then we come to the new interface features and usage, many of which come from the other browsers.

Not only does Chrome utilize Safari’s WebKit engine, it also receives referrals from Firefox’s Google search bar.   Additionally, much of Chrome has been open-sourced.   But while the inspiration and the underlying mechanics of Chrome have apparent parents in the likes of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera, many of the features of Chrome have Google’s touch.   For example:

–  Bookmarks: Maintaining your bookmarks is made easier by importing them from another browser and getting an easy view of your bookmarks through a new blank tab.   You can also type part of a bookmark name or URL into the Omnibox (address bar) to have Chrome “fetch” it.   Bookmarking a page is just as simple as clicking the star icon next to the Omnibox.
Google_Chrome_omnibox  
Figure 2: the bookmarking star next to the Omnibox in Chrome

–  Search History: By opening a new tab in Chrome you can see a tiled view of your most visited websites.   Clicking the full history link at the bottom of the view will allow you to see your browsing history by date and time.   You are even able to enter in a search to find a site by any part of the site’s name or URL.
 

Google Chrome
Figure 3: The Wikipedia home page as seen using Google’s Chrome (dated 09022008)

Tabbed Windows: A new window can be created at any time by dragging a tab off of the Chrome bar.   You can even drag and drop tabs between separate Chrome windows.   External links will open in a new tab directly to the right of the tab you’re viewing.   Additionally, you are able to create an application shortcut from any tab.   Perhaps the best part of the new tabbed window functionality is that if a web page malfunctions it only crashes the tab, not the whole browser.

Updated Omnibox (Address Bar): With Google’s Site Suggest built into Chrome, you can either guess the website you are looking for using keywords or enter the URL directly.   In order to access the Google search engine itself, simply type in a question mark (?) before your keyword or key phrase.

More Robust Utilities: Chrome offers a whole suite of utilities to help you manage various applications and add-ons.     The task manager shows you what tabs are running and the resources consumed.   Chrome’s inspector tool enables you to see a web page’s structure, JavaScript performance, allows you to make cascading style sheet (CSS) changes live.   Additional utilities include being able to launch a separate JavaScript debugger console for each tab and viewing the source of a web page with color coded markup and source code URLs as live links.

What makes Chrome a great new tool is that the user experience is fast, simple and intuitive from the start.   The speed and ease of use is likely to help users become more productive.   With its new and improved Internet browsing features, Google’s Chrome makes it simpler and quicker for browser users to find the content they are looking for.

August 20 2008

How Cool is Cuil and What of Wikia Search?

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Now that some time has passed since the launch of Cúil (www.cuil.com), one of two new search engines lauded as “Google killers”, let’s take a look at how Cúil has (or hasn’t) improved.

One of the initial quirks noticed when searching within Cúil, aside from the sporadic uptime due to the high-traffic interest, was that the image results didn’t always match with the content on Cúil’s results pages.   As we first noted in our blog on the day of launch, a query on “tree frogs” yielded interesting findings on the Cúil search engine results page (SERP).
cuil-george-bush-tree-frog  
Figure 1: Cúil search engine results page (SERP) from 29 July 2008

At the time, it did appear that the Cúil engine was in the process of learning — bettering its results as more and more people used it.   So what does the same query yield today?
cuil-tree-frog-serp  
Figure 2: Cúil search engine results page (SERP) from 19 August 2008

Comparing the two results pages, it’s easy to see that the image matching has greatly improved on Cúil.

How has the other of the two new search engines fared?   Much as Cúil gained early notice by virtue of their back story (the search engine was developed by ex-Google staffer Anna Patterson – who developed the TeraGoogle indexing system that Google still uses today – and her husband Tom Costello, who developed search engines at Stanford and IBM) the other contender, Wikia Search (re.search.wikia.com), also boasts an impressive pedigree.

Wikia Search is the brainchild of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.   The “human-powered” search engine debuted officially in January and purported to be an open source Internet search engine.   Using our earlier example of “tree frog”, let’s see what the results are in Wikia Search.
wikia-search-tree-frog  
Figure 3: Wikia Search SERP for “tree frog” query

One of the key components of Wikia Search was the fact that the engine encourages users to contribute to the search results, effectively making Wikia Search a form of a social networking search engine.   The “community” can build upon the search results through the use of an Add to this result feature which appears on the SERP itself (please see below).

wikia-search-add-result-to
Figure 4: Wikia Search “Add to the result” field highlighted

This week, Wikia Search has publicly demonstrated that it is moving forward with improving its results by updating its Grub web crawler tool (www.grub.org) and by encouraging users to become a part of the process by ranking websites and by downloading Grub.   Also, earlier this month, Wikia Search launched an official version of the Wikia (www.wikia.com) toolbar.   This toolbar is available for download and can be added onto the Mozilla Firefox web browser.

Through all of the various ways in which Wikia Search can improve its results through community participation, a question arises — how can Wikia Search compete with Google in terms of perceived usefulness and relevance with the results?   Scrolling down the Wiki Search SERP for “tree frogs” shows an unusual result.
wikia-search-tree-frog-serp  
Figure 5: Wikia Search result for “tree frog” query highlighted

Mixed into the various “tree frog” related websites is an entry for a writers’ reference site.   What relevance does this have to tree frogs?   It’s difficult to say off-hand.   What is apparent is how out of place this result seems to be for the “tree frog” SERP.

While Cúil and Wikia Search are making progress in improving their search results, they both still have quite a ways to go in order to become the “Google killers” they were reported to be.   According to data reports from Hitwise (www.hitwise.com), the Internet monitoring company which measures market share, last month the Google search engine accounted for just over 70 percent of all online search engine queries.   Based on that number, it’s plain to see that the two newest players have a long climb to the top.

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