In the past few months there have been a couple of announcements from the big search engines such as Yahoo! and Live Search on the topic of enabling people to build their own custom search engines. Google has finally showed up at the party with their own offering which was unveiled today. Below are my thoughts on their offering versus that of Windows Live.

Google Co-op

In his blog post entitled Review: Custom Search Engine Matt Cutts of Google writes

Google just announced something that I’m really jazzed about: Google Custom Search Engine. Several people mentioned that Google’s Accessible Search was built by using Google Co-op under the hood. Co-op has opened much of that power up to the public, so that anyone can build a custom search engine.

Most custom search engines (whether it be Google’s free sitesearch or Yahoo! Search Builder) only let you select one site to search, or you can offer websearch. Even Rollyo only lets you search over 25 sites.

This new offering lets you easily add hundreds (thousands?) of urls. You can search over ONLY the sites you choose, or (my favorite) you can apply a boost to the sites you choose, with regular websearch as a backfill. That’s really nice, because if your chosen urls talk about a subject, you’ll often get matches from those urls, but if the user types something completely unrelated, you’ll still get web results back. So it’s a true custom search engine, not just an engine restricted to showing matches from some domains.

You can also choose to exclude results from different sites. As far as I can tell, this happens in pretty close to real-time, even for complex url patterns. For example, I added the pattern “*” and started to get results from the Google directory, so I excluded “*” and the Google directory results went away immediately.

There is also a screenshot included in Mike Arrington's post at TechCrunch entitled Google Co-op Launches which is excerpted below
This isn’t new - Rollyo, Eurekster and Yahoo already have similar products. But Google is also offering, as an option, to bundle the service with Google Adsense ads and share revenue with websites that embed the custom search engine into their site. Only Eurekster currently shares revenue with users. Yahoo’s product, which got a lot of press at launch, has barely been mentioned in the nearly three months since then.
I didn't even realize that Yahoo! had an offering in this space until reading the TechCrunch entry. This doesn't seem to have gotten that much blogosphere love.

Live Search Macros

The Windows Live Search team wrote about the changes to the Search Macros feature originally announced in March in their blog post entitled Create your own search engine (an update to Live Search Macros) which states

Search Macros are personalized search engines for any topic area of interest.  You can create them, use them, share them with friends or discover macros created by the community on Windows Live Gallery.

I’d like to use this post to give you a basic overview of using and creating macros.  We’ll use future posts to dive into more of the nitty gritty on specific macros features.

Finding and using macros

Users of the first Macros release told us that using a macro was difficult and not very user friendly.  In this release, every macro now has its own homepage and human readable URL.  This makes them much easier to use, bookmark, and send to friends over email or IM.  For example, check out the homepage for the Reference Sites Search Engine macro (at
Enter a search term on this page and press Enter. You’ll be taken to the main Live Search page to see your results.

On the results page you'll see that the macro’s name appears in the search bar at the top of the screen.  This enables you to switch back and forth between Web, Images, Local, QnA and your favorite macros.

Here are some macros to try:

You can also find many more in the Windows Live Gallery!

Andy Edmonds from the Live Search team has written a couple of blog posts about the cool things you can do with search macros such as Search Macros Recap: DiggRank and the Power of Trusted Networks
Macros are often compared to Rollyo or other site bundling search offerings, but I hope the blog post describing LinkFromDomain, LinkDomain, and featuring other operators, sets the record straight.  Defining a set of sites to search is cool, and an idea well due to be commonly available. To be fair, Rollyo's UI and integration is slick, but  Micah Alpern hacked up a search of his blog, the blogs he linked to, or the web at large with a Google API hack back in 2003!

Using the link domain operators, you can go well beyond a simple set of sites.  You can:

  • keep a living list of the sites that link to you and search them
  • keep a living list of the sites you link to and search them
  • do the same for a set of trusted sites

Access to other advanced syntax differentiates further from simple site search amalgamations.  Heck, Scoble pontificated about a search engine that excluded blogs that participate in pay per post.  While I didn't figure out a way to focus this on only those PPP bloggers who don't disclose their interest, I think it's impressive that the basics can be done at all.  It's called macro:andyed.realBloggers, and uses to exclude sites that use the PPP tracking script (I think!) and hasfeed: to restrict to blogs (or other pages with syndication).

Super Hubs: DiggRank
The promise of personal networks of trust in information retrieval is not fully realized by the macros offering, but it's an important step in the right direction.  For super-hubs, like Digg or Delicious, linkFromDomain captures some really interesting human attentional residue.

Let me introduce macro:andyed.DiggRank. Try it for:

The Bottom Line

I tried out both services as well as Yahoo! Search Builder and they all seem to have some room for improvement. Both Google & Yahoo! have primarily built a way to add a custom search box for your site. Windows Live Search is primarily about adding your own customized search results to your search engine of choice. I think both scenarios should be covered by all the services. I think Live Search should give me the option of adding a search box on my blog that is powered by a search macro I wrote. Similarly, I'd like to be able to perform custom searches from the Google or Yahoo! search UI without having to remember how to get to or I have to agree with Sergey Brin here, Features, Not Products. This is yet another Google service that I have to perform a Google search for before I can find it and use it (others are Google Music Search and Google Blog Search).

One thing I do like about Google and Yahoo!'s options is that they provide a more user friendly UI for creating complex searches than Live Search which provides you with direct access to the search operators. This is more powerful and desirable to geeks like me but it is not very user friendly for the non-geek. A checkbox with 'prefer search results from these sites' is preferable to crafting a search query with "prefer: AND prefer:".

The management page for Google Co-op needs a lot of work. It is sparse in the typical Google way but it also doesn't seem coherent nor does it give you enough information about what you can or should be doing. The management page for Yahoo! Search Builder is a lot more coherently organized and aesthetically pleasing. The search macro management page for Live Search also could do with some improvement, primarily in simplifying the process for creating complex macros.

PS: Revenue sharing is a nice touch by Google and I'd be quite surprised if Yahoo! doesn't follow suite soon.


Categories: Competitors/Web Companies | Windows Live
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