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Teoma Adds Style to Jeeves' Substance

By Andrew Goodman, 4/2/2002

Those who are concerned about major search engines' poor track record for relevance
will be delighted to know that Teoma is alive and well and living with Jeeves.
Importantly, although acquired outright by Ask Jeeves in 2001 as a strategy to
augment and improve on the search experience at href="http://www.ask.com">http://www.ask.com (a goal only marginally fulfilled by an earlier
acquisition of Direct Hit), Teoma is maintaining its own identity as a standalone
site. This should allow it to stay visible and to continue gaining converts. It's
one of the best search engine technologies on the market today; in many respects,
at least as good as, and sometimes more sophisticated than, Google.


Of course, Teoma.com is being asked to pull its weight. Currently in beta is
a sponsored listings option - but the design will be structured to make it clear
which results are search results, and which are from sponsors. Paul Gardi, Teoma's
former president and COO and now VP of Search for Ask Jeeves, wouldn't have it
any other way. "They'll have to shoot me in the doorway if they destroy my relevancy,"
declares Gardi.


Gardi offers a quick rundown on the rapid evolution of generations of search
engine relevancy in the past seven or eight years: text analysis (most search
engines); user popularity tracking (Direct Hit, Alexa, proprietary technology
used by portals); page status (Google). Teoma's unique contribution is
closest to the last of these, but with perhaps a greater focus on mapping and
understanding "communities of interest and expertise." Unlike other search engines,
Teoma does not create a map of the entire web and then search that same map for
every query. Rather, since there are "endless variations" and constant changes
in web content, Teoma "structures" the appropriate communities of interest "on
the fly," and ranks the results based on a range of factors. Authorities (high
status pages) as well as hubs (good resources pointing to related resources) can
score well. The team is also beginning to work on integrating some of the Direct
Hit technology into the mix. "Direct Hit is another piece of information within
Teoma," explains Gardi.


Gardi's enthusiasm is contagious. In his view, most contemporary search methods
suffer from a static picture of the web. Directories like the Open Directory,
for example, rely on a static, rigid categorization method, rather than seeing
"how the web actually looks." From a methodology standpoint, one might say that
this approach is a radically empirical means of assessing "what counts to whom"
on the Internet. Most approaches to categorization rely too heavily on particular
interpretations of "what counts." That might work in a library where there are
a finite set of books to categorize, but it isn't powerful enough to help researchers
find important information in a database of billions of pages.


Running tests on particular key phrases really brings to light Teoma's unique
technology. I entered the query "pesticides." The coolest feature to me is the
related categories. Other search technologies do attempt to offer "related categories,"
but the way these ones are structured is the best I've seen. Those who want to
explore the leading documents on government regulation of pesticides, for example,
can get to the information in a snap.


Gardi wonders aloud why some major portals have lost interest in search relevance.
Users are so savvy, a poor search experience doesn't stay popular for long, even
if a huge company like AOL is behind it. "It's like a force of nature," argues
Gardi. "You can't get around serving people's needs."


Ask Jeeves is already seeing a benefit from incorporating the technology. It
is generating higher clickthrough rates and has seen a decrease in abandonment.
It hopes that the quality will attract more repeat users.


As for Teoma.com itself: try it, you'll like it.


Andrew Goodman is Editor-in-Chief of Traffick.com and principal of Page Zero Media, a Toronto-based consulting firm which focuses on search engine optimization and related marketing services. To stay in touch with search engine and portal trends, be sure to sign up for Andrew's Traffick Monthly email newsletter.  

 

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