WebProNews Exclusive: CNET Reveals Customizable Metasearch

    August 4, 2004

WebProNews has exclusive information on CNET’s metasearch engine. I caught up with CNET’s Jason Fischel, Vice President of Partnerships & Promotions, and Sarah Winterhalder, Director of Public Relations, at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose this afternoon. The revamp of Search.com doesn’t officially launch until tomorrow but Sarah and Jason have agreed to let me give you a sneak peek.

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CNET to Streamline The Search Industry...
CNET to Streamline The Search Industry…

What can we expect? For starters, “innovative personalization features” that allow users to change everything from the customizable results to the actual look and feel of the site.

If you recall, the old Search.com used to look like every other CNET property. (Think: ZDNet and Download.com) Unfortunately, users visiting Search.com often didn’t recognize it for what it was – a metasearch engine, pulling results from Google, MSN and other popular sources. It was time for a change.

Search.com has been given a facelift, with a new “streamlined, clean interface” for better usability. However, to keep its interface from looking too Googley, Search.com added another new feature. Now visitors are provided with a tool that allows them to change the site’s colors to skin setting of their choice. Ironically, Jason’s least favorite skin, a dark black background with a neon green font, has seemed to be the most popular skin so far. “This leads me to believe that if you don’t repulse at least one person, then you’re doing something wrong,” Jason said jokingly.

The company is also taking notice of a hot topic in the search industry right now – personalization. Search.com now offers customizable results based on users preferences.

One of the new options includes the ability to display web page thumbnails beside search results. Another feature is that paid results are “clearly separated” from natural results.

Users can also click the “Advanced” link beneath the search bar to be offered a wide variety of options. It’s possible to select specifically which sources Search.com gathers information from, and those sources can be deeply customized. For example, users can tell Search.com to search news sources only, but to exclude documents from MSN.

One of the major drawbacks to personalization so far has been convincing users to hand over personal information and preferences to the search engines. Many users are not yet willing to do this.

As I reported on WebProWorld earlier today, I ran into that problem just last night when I was discussing personalized search with someone. “You mean I have to give the search engines information about myself in order for this to work?” he asked. “Forget that! I’m not telling them anything about me!” Perhaps due to the anonymity of the Internet, many people seem to share his distrust of search engines gathering personal information.

Personalization through Search.com is completely up to the users, Jason and Sarah assured me. Rather than demanding information from users or overwhelming them with too many questions, the company claims it tries to respect user privacy in order to maintain their trust.

“We give users control,” Jason told me, “but they don’t necessarily need to know that. But the controls are there if they need them.”

Searchers can have Search.com remember their personal settings through cookies if they like. Search.com also offers a “Hide Search History” feature to keep searches private, especially in cases where computers are shared.

The customization process was deliberately kept as simple as possible, Jason revealed, to encourage searchers to take advantage of the new feature. No registration is required and the 2 – 3 click process allows searchers to easily restore their settings if they change computers.

Why all these changes?

“We have the name going for us,” Jason said, referring to Search.com’s memorable and easily typed domain. However, as he pointed out, every company needs something that will set it apart from the competition. It wasn’t enough to get visitors to the site; Search.com wanted to keep them there.

Over the past six months the company began developing and incorporating the current features and plans on adding new features in the months to come. Sarah and Jason hinted that Search.com will be integrating MP3.com and other CNET sources into its metasearch, although they can’t reveal specific details just yet.

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Brittany Thompson is an administrator for WebProWorld.com and contributes to the Insider Reports with her regular articles and interviews.