[Published in the OSALL newsletter of August 2010]
Defaulting back to a tried and trusted search engine is a surprisingly difficult trend to break. However, in the light of discoveries of recent months, I have resolved to broaden out and am quite excited by the potential of at least one of these services.
While most of the big search engines now offer realtime searches, and using specific parameters can force the results, it is worth investigating specialised products that ignore the bulk of the web and focus on niche resources. Bear in mind that these cater best to searches for trends or extremely current discussions.
As a comparison with traditional search results, here is a graphic illustrating Google Realtime’s response to a query :
The gimlet-eyed will be able to tell that the first two results are drawn from Twitter and Facebook and the earliest of these was posted only two minutes before I ran the query. The timeline at the top of the page reflects peak activity over the previous twelve hours in this case, possibly influenced by a march in the CBD during the late morning.
Each of the three niche search engines under discussion in this column caters to a different aspect of social networking and strives to hone in on advantages unique to its ‘driver’.
Blogs : BlogPulse.com
BlogPulse describes itself as “an automated trend discovery system of blogs”. Apart from running straightforward searches, this service focuses on identifying daily trends (people, issues, news) and enabling the tracking of conversation threads.
Getting results is only the beginning of the options available to the user. One click allows one to set up RSS feeds for a daily summary (a choice of ten options), create trend graphs of the results, track conversations and view blogger profiles. The graphs can be used in presentations and articles with accreditation.
A feature that I’d have loved to try but it wasn’t working effectively at the time I experimented (possibly because of connectivity issues ; I’m loathe to blame the engine without further evidence) is the profiling. This offers information on the posting behaviour, influence and link activity relating to individual bloggers. Should this work as I’d hope, it would be a useful tool to establish credibility of sources. Maybe my test was a bit unfair : I used Pierre de Vos’ Constitutionally Speaking blog as my example and the engine failed to identify this as an influential blog. I shall try again as the service grows.
Should you be a blogger, you are invited to submit your blog address to BlogPulse. The service is currently free and the blog will be visited no more than once a day.
Twitter : crowdeye.com
crowdeye focuses on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. All ‘tweets’ are indexed and remain relevant to the search engine for fourteen days. An interesting variation is that the default ranking for results is by relevance, although the results can be forced into chronological order. I’m a huge sceptic when it comes to a third force deciding what is of relevance to me but allow this engine to demonstrate its own abilities.
A factor that is increasingly affecting how results are manipulated is location. Twitter users will know that in the last month those with profiles are able to activate a setting that identifies their location to readers. This information is being used to allow searchers to redefine the results based on location of the tweeter.
I am not at all interested in the facility that offers suggestions of people I may wish to follow. If you use Twitter regularly, you will know that this has become a standard ‘in your face’ option.
Message Boards and Forums : boardreader.com
And, ta-ra-!, this is my least likely suspect but favourite new option.
Community message boards and forums were traditionally a part of the “invisible web” but this engine has opened up the opinions of movers and shakers to those of us who are outside their circles.
During my experimentation, I found this to be the best source of information on specific products (eg computer hardware, cars, etc) I have ever seen as people offer their own hard-won opinions. When it comes to that sort of information I like to hear what the man-in-the-street is saying – commercial bumph is readily available from the manufacturers.
On a lighter note, checking Press Releases for “Durban”, a recommendation for bunny chows topped the ranked results. A more mystifying result came from looking at Instructions : How to make bacon soap. Although it may be logical progression, it has temporarily alleviated my enthusiasm for random searches.
1 Google Realtime
But, like the Terminator, I will be baaack – for a further look at these three potential gems. I hope you will too.
Opinions expressed in this column are my own and not necessarily those of my employer.