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February 19, 2007

Custom Search Engines Could Replace Web Directories

Google lets you create custom search engines, by defining a list of sites and web pages that are experts on a topic. For example, you love poetry and you know a great deal of sites that aggregate poetry. Compile a list of those sites (you can also use URL patterns to better describe the pages) and create a poetry search engine.

For the moment, Google doesn't aggregate all the custom search engines (I made a simple tool for that), but here's an idea that could improve search results. Google likes to use OneBox results to glue information from different sources. A OneBox for custom searches could match your query with the most popular custom search engines based on their description, their most frequent queries and their list of sites. Then it could show the top results from these search engines for that query.

This concept of custom search engines might replace web directories, that can't scale because of the exponentially growth of the web pages and the limited number of editors. With custom search engines, anyone could become an editor for his/her topics of interest.

Here's an interesting description of Google Directory, a Google product that searches the sites listed by Open Directory Project, which is now almost obsolete:

"Google's directory engine also lets you search within a category once you've decided on the specific subsection of the web that interests you. In this way, you'll get only responses that fall within that category. For example, you may want to search for teams named Cougars within the college basketball section of the directory only, instead of across the entire web."

Instead of creating hierarchical categories, Google could use the labels you can attach to each site.


  1. You'd need a lot of people doing custom search engines for that to really be a valuable source of info.

    You are right about most directories being obsolete, but I think that is because of their hierarchical nature and alphabetical listings. They aren't built the way people generally search, they're static, and they're not timely.

    We at Bessed are building a human-powered search engine that uses people not just to categorize sites into neat alphabetical directories, but to rank sites based on a combination of their usefulness, their timeliness, and variety of results. Plus we offer visitors the opportunity to comment on results on the page.

    It's great to keep pushing the envelope on technology, but it's still possible to deliver great results with people, and that's our goal.

  2. There are a lot of people out "there" who are experts in some kind of stuff. I think it is almost a population of 2 billion "onliners". Not all will build a dedicated Custom Search Engine, but everybody who opens today a Google Account is building one without even knowing: their search / news / mail .... history is used to improve THEIR search results, and maybe this meta information will be used very soon to improve the results of clusters of people who don't use a G Account or Custum Search Engine at all.

    With Larry Page talking about "large scale computing power" finally leading to something that comes near to strong AI we shouldn't be surprised about the aftermath.

    I am very happy that Larry Page opens the discussion now, why G scans books, hires the most inelligent AI people and builds as much server farms that is possible today.

    Only my 2 cents


    Custom search engines will help remove the junk we usually get from search results and help Google rank pages better. This is just a cycle repeating remember in the Old days before Google yahoo had a team of engineers who's work was to build a manual index for the web. But as the web exploded, this became non - feasible. Then Google came in with a better method: Automation and better ranking. Now we are going back to the Old days and all who own custom search engines are the engineers designing manual indexes. When the cycle turns again and automation takes over what would be..............

  4. this would take a lott of time to happend, but not out of the question, looking at your name are you romanian by any chance
    please respond...

  5. The only reason Google is allowing people to create custom search engines is so that Google can receive all that FREE 'expert' input to make their index better and make more money. Think about it. It is like having 10's of thousands of employees working for free.

  6. Most users are used to the search box experience. Directories are counterintuitve and hard to manuever. Not to mention that many directories, such as legal directories are sponsored. So the more a lawyer pays, the higher or more prominent the listing.

  7. Comments, intangible benefits, after a short experiment.

    Rethink Google Co-Op, open cross-cultural bridges, as an useful tool, for quality feedback, developing a search engine.

    I think, Anonymous... is not totally right in his or her, comments. One win-win strategic is not dreamed for fools, or masochists "experts", agree to waste his or her time, serving to others, for make their fortunes.

    I see this tool as a interesting contribution, to global understanding, to collaborative education and possibility for emergent subjects, by amateurs - ICTs programmers, contents providers or Internet contributors- retaking volunteer work, in the same way NGOs and other kind of solidarity's organizations are thinking and acting -within plans or following intuitions- with creativity its challenges in learning boundaries, develop other competences and capacities, long time ago, IN EVERYWHERE.

    Currently, you can find complains because, automatic tracking or spiders works as indexers, are not sensitive or have not accuracy, if you evaluate: search results, some times.

    The internal or self motivation for participate or not, in this opcion: Google Co-op, designing, dreaming and finally, building, a meta search, little or complex, it will depends from life styles, carreer priorities, and LEISURE, available by each, potential expert, motivated to express his or her view points, in this new search engine.

    Google Co-op, is not calling for experts or contributors. The experts are here, already, doing virtual life, creating feedback, themselves, before, show up, Google Co-op, as tool for help in this process.

    “(…) What must we understand by author, or authoring role, in a scientific work or research?. Into grounds and fields of sciences authoring, had been linked to two principals elements: recognizing intellectual contribution, in an edition and social responsibility, assumed after publish this work or research. Moreover, in routinely praxis, into scientific activity, authoring has other additional functions, beyond academic and stricter frames. These functions are: social recognition ;(…) privilegiated place, as priority, for eventual funds or awards; (…) owner linkage; meritochratic promotion; retribution or compensation; responsibility (…)”

    (This is our a fastest and free English version, coming from this original article, about Ethics and Authoring)

    (…)qué debemos entender por autor de un trabajo científico. En el terreno de la ciencia, la autoría ha estado ligada a dos elementos fundamentales, el reconocimiento al aporte intelectual que la publicación representa y a la responsabilidad social5,6 que se asume ante lo publicado.7 Sin embargo, en la práctica cotidiana de la actividad científica, la autoría cumple funciones adicionales que rebasan el marco estrictamente académico.8 Estas funciones son: Reconocimiento social; Establecimiento de prioridad; vínculo de propiedad; mérito de promoción. Retribución; Responsabilidad (…).

    (Viñedo Tomey, Agustín: Ethical aspects in spread scientifics results. Ap en Rev. Educación Medica Superior 2002;16(4) Ed. Instituto de Ciencias Básicas y Preclínicas "Victoria de Girón". Available in URL:

    "A bread is not the only thing, for keep or stay alive, a human person"... Stay alive is something more than physiological or economics processes… intangible factors are important too.

    What kind of benefits, intangible benefits, acquires a single co-author, within this preliminary research or cooperative process, for build up, this flexible and new tool, named, Google Co-Op, customized thinking in his or her own, pleasure, self realization and capacity for make most easiest, selected contents, for emergent audiences or beginners, for example?

    1. Significant or relevant opportunity to be concentrated in contents and contexts, relatives to a particular subject, NOT in technologies: minimizing technophobes impulses for blockade or disturb the creative process or capacity for identify a problem and try to find a new solution, applying systematic or intuitive visions, communicational strategies, priorizing his or her OWN unsatisfactory previous experiences, for obtain a much better or optimized solution, in cases when this person, have not -before interact with Google Co-op- programming skills, experiences or know how.

    2. Encourage himself or herself, in creative competences, not only reproducing passive role, as information "consumer" or "user" information, NON customized or customizable by other, authors, with commons interests or priorities in a particular subject.

    3. If we really – you and me, we, the human kind- are living or experimenting transitional contexts for assume a new paradigm, supporting in: ICTs, new technologies, emergent capacities for create compasses, process, understand and interpret, exponential grow in information flows, customized search engines, represent a possibility for survive to over communicated and non wish information as spam, freeding each other, increase stress levels, DAILY, ex post, this new process for build, single or as collective, the customized search engine.

    4. If one person, contribute, with a creative performance to: “(…) social recognition (…); obtain a privilegiated place, as priority, for eventual funds or awards(…); owner linkage(…); meritochratic promotion(…); retribution or compensation(…); social responsibility(…)”, as citizen, business man or woman, member in a virtual community of expertise, probably, this person, is not the only one, beneficiary in this new step, for sciences, technologic appropriation and uses with prospective sense, in his or her, particular field, and within the current context of local and global, human development…exist other universe, different than narcissisms of authors.

    The internet exists not only for backbone, as invisible net, exists because, persons, communities, nations invest resources for keep growing, acting and sharing. But sharing, producing, promoting, and storing, what? Contents.

    If contents, provides by servers and platforms, are confuses, non actual, or are no showed in multiple ways- formats, moments and contexts- probably, you and me, stay doing other thing for spend time, working, managing o producing, information as critical factor, within knowledge’s production.

    Into, non industrialized nations, people suffered the dictatorship of experts, ending 70s and early times, during lost decade, in 80s: smart guys from informatics or information sciences had all the control, inclusive after, when PCs were introduced in global markets.

    Those computers with dozens of commands, and programming language, never resulted helped, useful, and valuable for ordinary small business man, or professors, outside computing sciences and its fields.

    People in these “remotes” times was scared, imaging all these ODD and complex, additional information, pushing in their minds, trying to find a place, for be storaged. Only “nerds” and “wise” guys, get not only the talent, inclusive the volunteer, for follow this psycho-rigid routines or procedures, in times where birth lotus 123, and other tools, for process numerical information in offices. Artists, readers, writers, researchers in social sciences or humanities, were excluded, during this time, or only used the computer as a tool, for calculate, surveys or similar, activities, linked with statistical or quantitative researches.

    Can you imagine current internet, only with formulas, commands, or numerical formalizations? NOT.

    Local contents, permit to amateurs or beginners “ordinary people” -non high educated, probably non English speakers or with other handicap or disabilities- find, download or upload a picture, a video, a song, at the same time, they are recovering their human condition, thinking and acting as a person, not as a cyborg.

    If knowledge is power, this effects only is possible, if people be intercommunicated, and information as basic element for decision-takers, show up, following determinates rules o principles -as accessibility, economy of time or space- for be SUCESSFUL processed, for massive audiences, empowered, within neo literacy skills, for understand and participate in build the reality and cyber worlds, as semiotics of possible worlds.

    Cooperative learning, cross cultural exchanges, and the virtu, named currently as capital value of solidarity, are represented in the experience for promote, produce, storage, select, enjoy, the contents. This process is imposible as a human experience, if persons, eventually, don’t know…WHERE IS the appropriate content, for resolve a problem:

    - Leisure time

    Only thinking in that kind of benefits, I believe, Google Co-Op, is a giant step, in global understanding, a possibility for simplify, or complex, the velocity, the quality, the matters or subjets, linked not only to marketing, inclusive to chain of value, in general terms, for enterprises, social initiatives, entrepreneurs, non profit and educational organizations …

    If internet is a buffet, and you and me, have not the skills, for serve, taste by ourselves, ALL the food and drinks available, in this global party, probably, its time to talk with chef, or other people with more experience, selection, indexing, cataloguing and develop, plates, drinks, for help us, to make possible with less effort, obtain, more gratifications, exciting, and successful, our decision to attend to this global party…

    Probably, customize search engines, are going to help to kids, and young people into industrialized nations, but here, at South (Caribbean, Africa, Latin America, Asia or East Europe) the contribution of Google Co-Op, is going to affect or impact in other age groups, considering the proportion of functional illiteracy, existing in new technologies, the thin broadband, and factors as Peruvian telecenters and Internet clubs, where more than 80 users interact with a single computer and internet connection, ONLY (Source: UNDP: Inform about Human Development, 2001) because is impossible imagine, poor people, essentially concentrated in non industrialized nations, buying a computer in each family, when more than 50% its population: only earn ONE or TWO dollars by day.

    Make easy, customizable, hopeful, three powerful reasons to keep, collaborating with Google Co Op, and other wises efforts for put heart and mind so close to audiences, users, following, Marketing 1 X 1.

    Grow together, Create together, in the new economy and radical changes into the international divide for work, after show up knowledge’s worker (Drucker, 1991). If money are your objectives in Google Co Op, please, no try to blockade others, and click in the bottom in the extreme right, in this tool.

    Kind regards,

    Yoe F. Santos

    Santiago de los Caballeros
    April, 30th, 2007

  8. I totally agree here. I have felt for a long time that the dmoz project seemed way too bureaucratic and non-dynamic to be useful.

    There are certain things that "list" do well, but as we have evolved as searchers, we need access to more current information.

  9. My co-op search is actually for SEO Friendly Web Directories and I find they are very 'timely' and often have some great niche site listing.