The web, distilled: Easier ways to find what's best online
By Jay Dougherty Mar 10, 2007, 11:57 GMT
Washington - Forget search engines. Sure, the Googles and Yahoos of the world will get you quickly to obvious points of interest - Microsoft.com, for instance, if you type 'microsoft.'
But they'll also have you surfing pointlessly through dozens upon dozens of barely relevant Web sites if what you're really interested in is slightly off the beaten path.
That's where a new generation of smart, proactive, community- driven search tools come in. Collectively, they distil the Web for you until what's left are sites you'll most likely find relevant and fascinating. Individually, they break new ground and are justifiably generating a fair amount of buzz among Web aficionados.
Have you ever 'stumbled upon' a site that ends up being one you visit every day? StumbleUpon.com (http://www.stumbleupon.com) aims to make that a daily occurrence. But instead of relying on chance, StumbleUpon embeds intelligence into your browser to increase the odds of your finding a truly valuable site.
StumbleUpon is a downloadable toolbar that integrates with your Web browser. In some ways this approach to finding what's best on the Web is better than services tied directly to a Web site, for there's no need for you to visit the site at all to benefit from the service.
Once installed, the StumbleUpon.com toolbar allows you to click a button to vote up or down on Web sites you're visiting. StumbleUpon notes your preferences, compares them with preferences of others who have voted similarly to you, and eventually is able to recommend sites that you're likely to find worthwhile.
StumbleUpon works with both Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. You can use the toolbar to find interesting videos and people who share your interests as well. Visiting the StumbleUpon.com Web site after installing the toolbar isn't out of the question, either: there you'll find lists of 'stumble buzz' - hot sites - and 'top stumblers,' or folks who are active and helpful.
The StumbleUpon toolbar may smack of spyware to those who are wary of any site learning about a person's browsing habits in any manner at all, but StumbleUpon ensures its users that it is completely free of spyware and adware, and plenty of reputable third parties have verified the claim.
With so much news online, how in the world can you ever take it all in? The answer is, 'you can't.' But Digg.com (http://www.digg.com) has a solution. With the help of millions of others, you can be exposed to the best news on any given day.
Digg's members submit links to what they consider to be the best news stories they find each day. If other Digg users find a particular news story worthy, they 'digg' it, clicking a button that then elevates a story's status. As stories accumulate 'diggs,' they rise to the top above other stories. News pieces that end up with hundreds of diggs ultimately make it to Digg's front page, where millions of loyal Digg users are then exposed to it.
Digg has categories for just about any type of news story, as well as for videos and podcasts. With an RSS-enabled browser, you don't even have to visit Digg to get the scoop. Just have the best stories according to Digg users delivered right to your browser.
Take the concept of Digg and apply it to browser bookmarks, and you end up with Del.icio.us (http://del.icio.us), a social bookmarking site that's gaining traction around the world. At its most basic level, Del.icio.us allows users to upload their bookmark lists, share them, retrieve them from any computer, as well as see what other Del.icio.us find valuable.
But Del.icio.us is about much more than finding what people consider the best of the Web, however. True, most users who first go to the site check out the 'hotlist' - those sites that a lot of Del.icio.us users are finding the best at the moment.
But the site's concept and use of tags is equally important. At Del.icio.us, you can associate - or tag - bookmarks with as many keywords as you want, rather than, as with browsers, having to file a bookmark under a single folder or no folder at all. The use of keywords makes it possible to search for bookmarks and to conduct searches of all of the bookmarks that people have assembled and rated highly.
The beauty of Del.icio.us is that people can use it in a number of ways to separate the best from the rest.
Collectively, these services are taking Web search in a new direction. A marriage of social networking and traditional search, they're harkening users back to the original days of the Web - when some search engines actually employed people to rank sites - while employing the machine intelligence that has developed over the past decade. If you're wondering how search will evolve over the coming years, this is likely the direction you'll want to look.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur