SES NYC: Does Barry Diller Get Search?

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The Search Engine Strategies conference kicked off this morning with Danny Sullivan’s interview with Barry Diller of IAC/Interactive, about the rebranding and future direction of the search portal.

First of all, let me say something nice about Barry Diller – he understands positioning. He gets branding. He understands that users will decide whether the search engine under his care survives, thrives, or remains just a little irrelevant. He’s persuasive. He got me fired up about trying the new search – which I can report to you has the cleanest interface and best set of tools that I’ve seen on a search portal so far.

What I have to ask about Barry Diller, and indeed the entire organization at Ask and IAC, is do they understand search? The reason that I use Google as my search engine of choice is not a cool user interface, it’s the quality of the organic search results that Google delivers. The reason why I fall back on Yahoo and MSN if Google lets me down, is again, that they are likely to deliver good search results.

Ask’s organic search results are powered by Teoma. Teoma/Ask reps have been coming to SES for years, talking about their cutting edge technology, their advanced algorithm, and telling us (as Barry Diller did today) to give Ask a try.

Unfortunately, every time I give them a try, I am left with the same feeling, that no matter how cool the interface is, the search results don’t measure up to the standard set by Google, Yahoo, and MSN. It looks to me like the problem isn’t their algorithm, it’s that they aren’t crawling enough of the web often enough. What I find on Google, especially when it comes to longer search queries, is simply better than what I find on Ask.

With general searches (hotels, flowers…) all of the “major” search engines usually give you decent results. Of course, sometimes the results are bad at Google too… if I search for “flights” I get the same collection of UK-only websites (I am in the USA) on Google and Ask. MSN and Yahoo do better, and though I suspect they may be hand-adjusting the results at these engines for very popular searches, I don’t really care because they show me what I want.

Anyway, Mr. Diller… I love the interface. I love the tools. I hate the search results. If you want your search engine to become a contender, they have to do a better job of crawling the web. Google has you beaten hands down when it comes to the amount of information they can access, and the freshness of their index.

For readers who are in New York for the show, I am speaking on Search Term Research this afternoon at 1pm, and I’ll be bumping around the show until about 3pm Tuesday. If you see me, I hope you’ll say hello.

Dan ThiesDan Thies
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