Getting "Swicki" with It: Pruning Your Search Design: In a World Awash with Powerful Search Tools, Specificity Is an Increasingly Important Value in Online Searching. Google It? Sure, and Get Back 247,000,000 Pages. the First 10 of Which You'll See, the First Three of Which You'll Look at, and the First One or Two of Which You'll Use, Right? Manipulation of Metadata Wins the Day Again

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Using your old pal, Boolean logic, you can, of course, get a lot further along. But even so, many highly relevant pages will remain hidden to googling (in whatever search engines), because, perhaps, your answers lie in an asocial site that doesn't link out much. What you need is a subject-specific search engine; you can find one readily enough by searching for: "X" and "search engine" (where X is the subject). For example, "art" and "search engine" will turn up Artcyclopedia [http://www.artcyclopedia.com] and some other good resources. These subject-specific search engines are more like searchable directories than true, full-bore, spider-powered, Web-trawling, salty-dog searchers. The great advantage of them is that they bring human editing and evaluation to bear on every search you do, whether the site lurks near the known umbra of the visible Web or whether it's some e-commerce heavyweight, using all the punch of millions of dollars.

Enter swickis. Imagine a subject-specific search engine that is constantly pruned and refined by a host of human subject experts. Every search you run in the swicki runs through a set of sites carefully ranked by authority and quality. The effect should be that your searches return the most relevant results. The whole thing is supposed to work kind of like a somewhat dumb, artificial intelligence, expert system. Swickis are search engines "that learn from your community's search behavior," according to Eurekster, Inc. [http:// swicki.eurekster.com], the company that designs and maintains swickis. Swickis are growing fast, too; in just the top four categories (Computers, Business, Home, and Regional), there are already 5,282 swickis.

Kicking the Tires

But how good are they? Let's take a closer look at the components of these special search engines.

I built a swicki [http://archival-swicki.eurekster.com] to run some comparative searches and to tinker with the guts of the thing. The description I wrote for it read, "Search here for hard-to-find texts, images, audio, art, public-domain images and information, electronic books, and archival media."

When you register to build your own swicki, you have a number of customizable elements at hand. The most important of these elements in affecting the power and accuracy of a swicki search seem to be "train to modify behaviour," "edit buzz cloud," and "manage promoted sites."

Train to modify behaviour is the most powerful customization for your swicki. This tool allows the swicki administrator to tell the swicki which URLs are most relevant so that it looks at these sites first. From here, you can also block sites that you definitely don't won't the swicki to search and you also add subject categories to make the swicki easy to find.

Edit buzz cloud provides a way to fine-tune the folksonomic indicators (the tags) that appear on the swicki's public interface. All search terms entered into the swicki search box get added to a list that the administrator sees in this edit buzz cloud section, and, if approved by the administrator, become tags in the buzz cloud under the search box. Presumably, this helps to cement the swicki's identity, as if to say: "You can definitely use this swicki to look for information on x." Tags get bigger relative to others in the buzz cloud when they are searched for repeatedly. The administrator can also delete tags from the cloud.

Manage promoted sites is the real meat and potatoes of swicki-ness. Your searchers may suggest that certain URLs rank higher, lower, or get deleted altogether from your swicki. When you manage these sites, you may allow the experiences of your users to shape the future usability of the swicki and shape the quality of the results it returns.

These three elements are the most important aspects of the swicki's mechanics, but other elements, such as color and font, may also be modified. You can even embed swicki search boxes in other Web pages. …