As the major players in Web search duke it out, a growing number of startups are embracing a different way of retrieving and sorting search results.
Called clustering, the technology dynamically groups search results into categories as a way of solving one of the perennial problems of Web search: figuring out what the searcher is really looking for.
A new search engine named Clush this week plans to announce its arrival on the clustering scene. It follows the launch last week of a search site called Clusty from clustering-focused search company Vivisimo Inc.
While both search engines categorize search results in clusters, they are taking different approaches. Clush is built atop its own search index, which, for now, is tiny in comparison to those of Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. Clusty, on the other hand, is a meta-search site, drawing its results from multiple engines and other information sources.
Clush, first publicly demonstrated during the Search Engine Strategies Conference in August, is the brainchild of search-engine optimization experts and is part of parent company InfoSpider Inc., of Milpitas, Calif.
Clush President Frank Mattox said he and others at the company were frustrated with the search experience on other engines, most of which base results on various concepts of link popularity.
Clush instead bases results on more of a linguistic analysis. Its clustering technology delves into heuristics in order to group and categorize various Web pages, Mattox said.
“What we were trying to do was to come up with a better idea and search experience,” Mattox said.
While it originally included a single grouping of results, Clushs latest update delivers keyword results with four boxes of clusters surrounding the query.
The clusters represent different types of categorizations for a keyword, letting a user refine the search. For example, searching for the term “cars” will return clusters targeted around the most common car searches, alternative words for cars, parts of cars and types of cars.
“What we find is a lot of people just type in generic keywords like cars, but they might be looking for something more specific,” Mattox said. “What this does is to help you think and provides expanded ideas of what you might be looking for.”
Clushs Web index sits at millions of pages so far, and Mattox said the company is working to grow it exponentially. Part of Clushs indexing includes images of Web pages themselves, which the search engine displays to the right of its results as a quick preview of a site.
Along with crawling the Web, Clush offers a paid inclusion program to sites. It also lets users rate results, using the feedback to tweak relevancy and discover spam-oriented sites. Clush also is working to license its technology to other sites and companies, Mattox said.
Clustered-search technology does offer an innovative alternative for users wanting a different way to view results, but it so far has stayed relegated to specialized users such as academics and researchers, said Gary Stein, a senior analyst at Jupitermedia Corp.s Jupiter Research.
The biggest challenge for the startups focusing on clustering will be wooing a broader user base.
“Ive never felt like its been able to crack into the mainstream,” Stein said of clustering. “People tend to be very satisfied with search engines. Eighty percent of them feel like they get good, relevant results.”
For its part, Vivisimo, of Pittsburgh, is betting that the overload of information being returned in search engines will lead users to want a better way for managing and sorting results.
“The success of todays search technology has left many users awash in information,” said Vivisimo CEO Raul Valdes-Perez, in a statement. “The net result is that users cannot or will not wade through all the options a search engine offers up.”
Vivisimo unveiled a new home for its clustered search at Clusty.com, which, along with displaying a list of Web results, also dynamically groups them into categories along the left side.
A search for “Walt Disney,” for example, will return a set of folders divided into Walt Disney World, collectables, history, DVD and biography, among others.
Clusty.com also includes an expanded number of tabs, where users can delve into specific sets of information. These include tabs for shopping, news, blogs, images, Wikipedia encyclopedia results and gossip, Vivisimo announced.
Users also can set up their own customized tab by choosing the information sources on which to search.