Guest Blogger: Danny Sullivan, Editor, Search Engine Watch

  • Posted September 13th, 2004 at 8:25 am by Yahoo! Search
  • Categories: Guest Bloggers

From time to time, you’ll see some non-Yahoo! folks talkin’ it up on this blog about various topics related to search. We’re excited to have Danny Sullivan, creator and editor of the popular Search Engine Watch newsletter, as our first guest blogger. As many of you know, Danny knows a thing or two about the search space. He’s been covering search engines since ’95 and is considered one of the top experts in the space. [Update: Just to put any doubt to rest, guest bloggers are not compensated in any way by Yahoo!. We'll be sure to make that clear with each guest blogger post.]
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In 1989, drama in The OC wasn’t on television but between two newspapers, the Orange County Register and the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times.

The LA Times wanted to win in Orange Country, where it had half the circulation of the OC Register. It started pouring resources and people into its coverage of OC. That’s how I got my start in journalism, as part of a new wave of hires helping the Times in its newspaper war.

The Register didn’t sit still, of course. It ramped up its efforts and people as well. As a journalist, being in the middle of this battle was great fun. Everyone was charged and excited about beating the competition. As a result, OC had news coverage like it had never seen before.

Why this trip down my memory lane? Many readers of this blog no doubt know there’s something of a search war going on right now. Like the newspaper war I experienced, the result is great for those the search engines serve. The resources, efforts and people being tossed into trumping the competition should ultimately benefit the searcher.

I got to see the energy being unleashed first hand a few weeks ago, when I made a regular trip out to California to meet in person with various search companies. I’ve come to Yahoo! each year since 1997, but this last visit was special. I saw more new and innovative things in the works than ever before. But more important, the people themselves were pumped up and energized to be first in search.

I can’t talk about the new stuff yet, so I wanted to instead highlight the most important thing Yahoo!’s done this year. It’s not super cool search commands (though my colleague Tara Calishain just did an excellent job of pointing out some of those, so check them out).

It’s not Yahoo!’s search shortcuts that have been blogged about already (but those are great — keep them coming). RSS feed searching? Travel search? Local search? All great. But above it all, I like that in February, Yahoo! returned to having its own unique “search voice.”

Search voice? How can a search engine have its own voice? I need some search engine 101 to explain, and apologies to those who know this stuff already!

When we search, the search engine checks what’s called its index. The index is a collection of documents the search engine has gathered from crawling the web. Think of it as a big book of answers it consults, every time you do a search. No search engine has exactly the same set of documents in its index as another.

Each search engine also uses is own unique method of flipping through the index to decide which documents should be top ranked. That method is called the search engine’s algorithm.

The combination of having a unique index and a unique algorithm is what gives a search engine its own voice, as expressed in the results it presents. (Want to easily see this? Check out this new comparison tool).

You can think of it like movie reviewers. Is the movie Cellular that just opened good? Checking Yahoo! Movies, I find that of 11 different reviews, grades ranged from C- to A. Each reviewer saw the movie differently, judging it against their own unique tastes and knowledge.

The same is true with search engines. We want a variety of opinions, alternatives we can consider. When Yahoo! unveiled its own search technology earlier this year, the company regained its unique search voice, and the web as a whole benefited from the greater diversity.

I fully expect Yahoo! to keep building on the progress its made so far — and its rivals are just as full of energy and ideas as well. I hope the competitiveness of the search wars keeps going strong. We all benefit from the search companies being kept on their toes.

Danny Sullivan
Editor, Search Engine Watch

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