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Thursday, May 04, 2006

In Search, "Truly Useful" Gets the Nod

Last night, something surreal happened. I was reading a press release for a new blog search engine called sphere.com - and I looked up at my TV to see David Blaine inside an actual sphere. I couldn't help but thinking: "what's the point of that?"

In relation to the blog-osphere or the acrylic version, rather than feeling energized or curious, I couldn't help but feel a bit punchy and listless. Sphere.com has the requisite "why our blog search is better" information on the site, but does it really get your engine running? Not mine. One of the reason the well-connected founders decided to undertake the project was to "encourage more people to discover great blog content," and even to "encourage more people to blog." Do we really need to do that? That's like asking David Blaine at a family dinner if he has any stunts he'd like to perform. Don't encourage him!

Today's release from Sidestep is quite different: it's a feature you know you'll probably use if it works as well as billed. It's called "activity search" - as an adjunct to your travel portal experience. You've booked your trip, and you know roughly where you're headed, but you haven't completely figured out what to do when you get there. Enter "activity search."

The old way would be to go through conventional means, reading the travel guides, asking family and friends, and doing in-depth research. The new way seems like it would save a lot of time.

Carolyn and I are going to explore the Rockies this summer for a couple of weeks. I know we shouldn't have any shortage of activities, but why waste the first couple of days coming up to speed because we were too rushed to research everything, when we could play with an activity search engine that would search multiple travel sites and return a quick list?

Unfortunately, the feature isn't truly useful to me yet, as searches for Calgary and Jasper, Alberta, returned no results.

How about U.S. searches? I'm heading to Minneapolis next month. According to Sidestep at this stage, there's not a whole heckuva lot going on there. I could see a Twins game, if I stayed an extra week. I'm not a huge fan of ice dancing or lesser Broadway musicals.

So I'll backtrack slightly. Activity Search is "somewhat useful." Real research still beats it by a mile, though. Metasearch is only as good as the content created by source providers. The search business still has a tendency to devalue content and celebrate feats of data mining -- or to put it another way, we tend to "lionize spiders."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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