Magazine article Information Today

'Tis a Gift to Be Simple

Magazine article Information Today

'Tis a Gift to Be Simple

Article excerpt

Remember when Yahoo! used to be ... a directory? If you were on the Web back in 1994, when it first made its online appearance, you had to love it. Right?

Well, now Yahoo! is e-mail and instant messaging/chat and maps and news and phone books and fantasy sports and shopping and discussion groups and photo albums and online gaming and personal ads and finance and lots of other things and ... oh yeah, search. Search.

In February of this year, Yahoo! rolled out a new, improved search technology that really did seem to make it a better product and a worthy competitor to you-know-who, which, prior to then, had actually been the provider of Yahoo!'s search technology. Yahoo!'s new technology incorporated not only new algorithms but also technologies from some of its acquisitions--notably Inktomi and Overture, the commercial search provider (owner of AltaVista and Fast Search and Transfer/AlltheWeb).

My ResourceShelf colleague, the inimitable Gary Price, noted several improvements over Google, mainly that "Yahoo! does not have the page limit encountered at Google," which "stops indexing HTML pages at 101 KB." Also, according to Price, Yahoo! will accommodate more than the 10 search terms users are restricted to on Google.

One of the things Google always had going for it was its simple, uncluttered interface. Yahoo! had gotten, uh, a bit busy over the years. But there's a nice plain interface available at http://search.yahoo.com. All in all, it's a good product that has gotten much better.

But Yahoo!--like other major search engines--is becoming a victim of creeping featurism.

creeping featurism / kree'ping fee'ehrizm / n. [common] 1. Describes a systematic tendency to load more chrome and features onto systems at the expense of whatever elegance they may have possessed when originally designed. See also feeping creaturism.--The Jargon Dictionary (http://info.astrian.net/jargon/terms/c/creeping_featurism.html)

Let me give you an example. The other night, I went to a ballgame with a friend and longtime colleague who is as weird about baseball as I am. It was another off-night for the Devil Rays, and so we gradually found ourselves talking less MLB and more shop. The subject of search engines reared its inevitable head.

Me: Did you know you can track packages on Yahoo! now?

Him: Really?

Me: Yeah. For UPS, you just enter the tracking code; for FedEx, you type FedEx and the tracking code; and for the postal service, you type usps and the tracking code.

Him: But why? I've always just gone to those Web sites to track packages. Why would anybody use a search engine to track packages? You want another beer? They stop selling after the seventh inning.

Tracking packages is not all you can do on Yahoo! Search now. Not by a long shot. You can troll for the cheapest gasoline prices (type gas plus your ZIP code), look up patent information (patent plus its number), identify a product and its manufacturer (enter the UPC code), check traffic conditions (your city plus traffic), compare book prices (enter the ISBN) ... and much, much more. (Lookee here: http://help.yahoo.com/help/us/ysearch/tips/tips-01.html.) Some of these work better than others.

It ain't just Yahoo!. Google also has been trying to be all things to all people. It offers a similar array of shortcuts, and we're all aware of how much heavy breathing has been generated by its beta-stage GMail service. …

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