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Month: June 2012

Yahoo Axis – A search browser alternative to Google

Yahoo used to be the coolest tech company around, now they are losing the search engine wars badly against Google and Bing, can they get back into the game with their latest product, Yahoo Axis?

Yahoo Axis home screen.

Yahoo Axis is available for desktops (PC and MAC), the Ipad and the Iphone, a search made on the desktop computer can be continued on an Iphone. All bookmarks and read later lists are also synced between the different devices. Yahoo Axis is lacking apps for Android and Windows Phone, which hopefully will be brought to the table shortly.

On the desktop Yahoo Axis is downloaded as an extension to an already existing browser, such as Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer 9. When Axis was released there a security issue with the Chrome extension, this has since then been fixed by Yahoo. Some blogs reported that Internet Explorer 9 and other browsers were slowed down when surfing the web, it was noticeable in IE 9 but not any of the other browsers, even-though the extension itself sometimes took a while to load it didn’t affect the performance of the browser. The general behavior of the extension in Google Chrome was also a bit awkward, sometimes it opened, sometimes it didn’t.

The Ipad/Iphone apps is really where this product comes to real usage, the interface in Yahoo Axis is perfect for cell phones and tablets. For example Axis shows more relevant info about a website before loading it, making it much easier to use on the Iphone than Safari, which relies on Google who basically have the same layout as on the desktop.
The sync between devices works well, for example it is simple to research something on the desktop and then continue on a mobile device on the go. Yahoo Axis has support for Google and Facebook-accounts, so a Yahoo account is not needed just to use this product.
Yahoo Axis has a home-screen with a list of bookmarks and read-it later items. Adding bookmarks was no problem but adding sites to the read-later list was sometimes a struggle, for example we I added an article in Wired to read-it later, but it didn’t show up.

When searching long tail keywords Yahoo Axis is not that powerful as Google, it simply doesn’t find the in-depth stuff that Google do, and even if it does it’s still hard to tell from the results which hits are good and which aren’t. Searches in other languages than English returns mixed results, it’s not uncommon for Yahoo Axis to mix different languages in its results (for example Norwegian and Spanish). The search engine used as with all Yahoo products is Microsoft Bing.

Axis handles the standard searches such as text and images just fine, but it lacks news and video search making it difficult to use as a sole search engine, Yahoo says that they will add additional options over time.

Yahoo Axis is a good concept, and has the perfect timing, it is however too bad that the browser extensions for browsers need some polishing. As Google is getting more comfortable in their total ownage of the search market, and seem to be focusing on Android and driver-less cars, the field is open again for innovation products, such as Yahoo Axis.

Timehop: Your Digital Time Machine

All the social media sharing and interaction is creating essentially a historic path online of our lives. It is intriguing that there are few services (except Facebook advertising) who takes advantage of this.

Timehop features Facebook integration.

Timehop was founded in 2011 and is the result of a Foursquare hackaton, the service is backed by several venture capital firms. Every day the service will go back one year ago in your social networks and send a summary via e-mail. It will also import events of somewhat general historic importance from that day, also from social networks.

Timehop can be used with Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram. The service can also sift through your text-messages on an Iphone and Android phone. Which may be a little bit too much information to give away to a social networking service.

Overall Timehop is a neat idea with a clear purpose, it is addictive and you will read the e-mails it sends, guaranteed. However it’s probably one of those services that will exist for a while until the big social networking players figure out how to solve it themselves.

Timehop displays your social media activities a year back.

Three Google search alternatives

Google’s way of handling their search engine has come under a lot of criticism lately, the criticism involves favoring of bigger brands and sites making it difficult for smaller sites to rank. Other criticism comes from the fact that Google is tracking searches and visits in order to target advertising etc.

Alternatives to the bigger search engine companies have been available since Altavista in the 90:s, often with various quality. Below you will find some of the hottest alternatives to Google search.

Blekko

Blekko was released 2010 to the public. It is edited by human editors (8 000 of them if you believe Blekko). The editors role is to edit 50 sites to correspond with 100 000 of the most frequent search terms on Blekko, a challenge indeed. Of course this means that search results will be more clear and hopefully more meaningful, but the backside of the model is that there will be about 50 sites corresponding for most of the traffic, and how the editing process works is not clear.

We tried searching for “Cars” both on Google and Blekko. In Blekko we got the following results:

1. Cars.com
2. Cars.gov
3. Disney Cars (official site)
4. Cars (2006) IMDB

In Google we got the following results (logged out of course):

1. Cars.com
2. Autotrader.co.uk
3. Carsales.com.au
4. Cars (2006), IMDB

Blekko assumed that I was looking for information about cars, and did take into account the movie “Cars”. Google got some weird results, one UK-site and one from Australia, this may have been Google’s way of localization, but Australia is on the other side of the planet from where Syntax30 is based.

Blekko also has video and image search, it works well most of the time. Most of the hits are from YouTube, when opening a video it opens in a lightbox screen. I like the video navigation systems much better in Google, Bing and Yahoo, where you can browse more videos as you are watching them.

The major feature in Blekko is slashtags, a slashtag is basically a tag grouping a number of sites on a certain topic. The grouping is edited by an editor, or a number of associated editors, the model is very similar to how Wikipedia works, but a little bit more controlled.

Some cool features in Blekko is the fact that you can subscribe to any of the slashtags using RSS, it’s also possible to view SEO-stats (such as inbound links, ranking etc) for each site listed. If there are some sites that a user doesn’t like to get hits on, it’s possible to mark them as SPAM, then they will disappear from that user’s search results.

One problem with Blekko, is that even-though the search engine is edited by humans, some of the results that Blekko gives are old. For example various sites that we searched for had updated their page titles, URLs and descriptions, but in Blekko they were still included as the old sites.

Overall Blekko is an interesting alternative to Google, but it is too advanced to really be something that the general public will take interest in, at least the editing process. The search results returned are less spammy than Google’s but in some cases also less relevant.

Slashtags edited by a crew of editors is an important part of Blekko.

 

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is an interesting project, which lately has received a lot of attention in the media as an alternative to Google. The main purpose of DuckDuckGo is not to track users searches and target advertising towards them, something Google has been doing for a while.

The interface is actually very similar to Google, with just a white main page with a search box, however since DuckDuckGo has no bias towards any special services online it’s possible to search both in the image searches of Google and Bing, as well as YouTube and Amazon (for shopping reasons). This is a good concept, but we have seen it before.

When searching on DuckDuck Go the results are not much different from Google, for example our search for cars returned:

1. Cars.com
2. Autotrader.com
3. autos.yahoo.com
4. Edmunds.com
5. Cars 2 Disney.com

In the heading of each search there is a box “Meanings of”, this box is basically a widget connecting to other similar searches on DuckDuckGo, the box also changes shape and loads information from Wikipedia or YouTube when available. DuckDuckGo have advertisment in their search results, for example we got an ad for Buick when searching for cars. It’s nothing wrong with that.

For the real geeky users there are various settings that can be applied for DuckDuckGo, for example it’s possible to change the colors, size of fonts, if the search engine should return more results when scrolling down etc. There are also various privacy settings which can be turned on or off, such as if the user search term should be tracked when leaving DuckDuckGo. It’s possible to save the settings for use on other devices.

DuckDuckGo is much simpler than Blekko, and should appeal to a less technical audience. However the ranking algorithm is a sketchy. For example it’s not open-sourced, and the only real information about how sites ranks in DuckDuckGo available is that it is based on inbound links, let’s hope it’s not the only way of determining if a site ranks well.

DuckDuckGo features a lot of different settings.

 

Addictomatic

Addictomatic is not your standard search engine as Blekko or DuckDuckGo, instead of displaying results from an index of sites, Addictomatic imports various hits from social networks, blogs and other online sources, creating a more comprehensive and social view of a specific topic.

The sources connected to Addictomatic are Twitter, Friendfeed, YouTube, Flickr, Bing News, Google Blog Search, Blinkx, Ask.com, Twingly, WordPress and many others. It is possible to exclude some sources and include others.

The search algorithm for finding information in these sources is not open-sourced, according to the founders search results are pulled in to the site using RSS-feeds from the various sources. Overall the results are pretty good, however for search-terms where there is disambiguation Addictomatic will not work at all, at least not if the search-term is not available in social networks.

Each search is presented in a dashboard, with a box representing each network, the user can move the different boxes around, remove some and add others. It is a very neat way of getting the grasp of a topic quickly, the dashboards can later be bookmarked, and also shared on for example Facebook. There is also a browser plug-in available, but not for later browser versions. Addictomatic does not seem to be anonymous, such as DuckDuckGo, and there are ads in there as well.

Overall Addictomatic is not a general purpose search engine, but it does a very good job of finding buzz regarding current events and topics.

 

Addictomatic features a customizable layout.

 

Benelab

Another interesting alternative search engine to Google is Benelab, it may be the world’s first charity search engine. When a user search Benelab advertising will be displayed, the revenue generated by the advertising is donated to charity. Each time you search your Benetrack will be updated with how many cups of rice, cups of water and seconds of labor your searches have generated.

Benelab is based on Yahoo Search, so it’s not a real alternative to the other competitors, but if you want to search for a good cause, you should give it a go.

What other Google search alternatives do you like? Please share in the comments below.

 

Silk: Zen-like Content Management System

Various web-apps tries to overcome the obstacles and headaches of creating web-pages and blogs, with everything from WordPress, Tumblr to Drupal on the market Silk tries to find its own turf, simple and quick.

Silk

Silk is an web app developed in the Netherlands, it is backed by the venture capitalist firm Atomico run by Niclas Zennström co-founder of Skype. So far Silk is in beta, for example the documentation still reads “Contact us if you want to know more about advanced features in Silk” and you have to request access to the API. The editor part of it was released on the 10th of May 2012.

When first starting Silk it’s amazing how scaled back and light-weight the application is, it’s almost like the Iphone when using it for the first time, it didn’t seem to do a whole lot but eventually delivered lots of features.

All pages on a Silk site is structured into categories of your choice, the pages can also be tagged, which is the same functionality available in most blog platforms. A neat feature in Silk is the possibility to import .CSV files, which the system will create a structure from. This saves a lot of time when creating larger sites.

Silk comes with the usual set of text editing features, it is possible to add more advanced functionality to each page by using widgets. There are different kinds of widgets available; charts, recent documents, table of contents, maps (connected to Google Maps) and category listings.

The use case for Silk is a bit blurred, it’s not a replacement of more advanced blog platforms and CMS-systems, clearly. Because it lacks certain key features to run blogs and larger sites. However for whipping together a small data presentation website Silk is still an interesting alternative, one interesting case of Silk usage is the Guardian’s data visualisations and commentary.

As mentioned earlier Silk is still in beta, it’s a bit concerning that it doesn’t seem to be a plan for where Silk is going, hopefully there will be one soon. Given that Silk is light-weight and quick to work with it puzzles me that there is no version where you can edit pages for tablets, such as the Ipad available. To me Silk should really be mobile to be worth the effort, there are better CMS:es and solutions for desktops but not for tablets.

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