Back in the summer Yahoo announced that it was to close the search engine AltaVista, and that duly happened in July. I suspect that most people’s reaction would be either “what on earth is Alta Vista?” or “Blimey! Is that still going?”
Alta Vista came along in 1995, at a time when there were several competing tools and no clear leader. It rapidly became everyone’s favourite tool for finding stuff on the net. Google’s arrival on the scene a few years later posed a serious challenge and by the end of 2001 Alta Vista was losing users hand over fist. Later it was sold off to Yahoo and disappeared from most people’s radar.
Google has dominated the search world ever since, though other tools still have their followers. Microsoft launched Bing as a direct rival to Google. Personally I have never found a reason to use Bing until this week. A blog post by Karen Blakeman suggests that “Bing seemed to be better at recipes and shopping enquiries than research oriented queries.” She describes how a tool called Bingiton allows you to submit a search to both Google and Bing and compare the results you get back. It prompts you for 5 searches in a row and asks you to choose your favourite set of results for each. At the end it tells which service – Bing or Google – you chose as giving the best results.
A new search tool that has launched recently looks interesting. It is called Blippex and tries to do something different from Google.
Blippex’s algorithm, called DwellRank, decides relevance based on how long users spend on a site and how many times Blippex users have visited it. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have, independently of the Blippex team, established that the amount of time someone spends on a web page or document is, not surprisingly, a pretty good measure of how important and relevant it is.
A blogpost by Christopher Mims with the arresting title “This is the first interesting search engine since Google” explains more about how Blippex works. It is built by observing the behaviour of its users, who are invited to download a plugin. Pages that users spend longer looking at are given a higher ranking. The consequence of this is that the database of pages is currently far, far smaller than Google’s.
Christopher Mims admits:
At this point, Blippex’s search results are pretty rough, but at least they’re different than Google’s, and often significantly different.
My first impression is that it doesn’t home in on relevant pages in the way that Google does, and it needs to get bigger and better quickly to be of real use. But it is an intriguing approach, distant cousin to the idea of social search.
It will be interesting to see whether Blippex will grow into a genuinely useful service, or perhaps blaze the way for another tool to take a similar approach.