The Joy of Widgets
Last week I did a search on the term “SEO” to get us started. Let me show you that first search picture again so you have something to refer to while I explain those interesting icons.
Okay, now let me continue explaining a typical result. I’ve already explained supplemental results and the icons at the far left, which show where each result appears in each of the three major search engines. It’s time to explain those icons across the bottom of each result.
Those icons do various things, and in this case you can hover over each one to get a tool tip that explains them. They can take you to versions of the page that are cached on Google, Yahoo, or MSN. But that’s just for openers.
I kept the default settings in the display for this, so these are just what the icons that show up by default do. They can show you the Alexa traffic details for the particular domain; clicking on the icon opens up a new browser with the information, which is an approach I prefer over seeing it take me to a new page in the same browser. Sometimes, though, a simple tool tip is best; hover over the PageRank icon and you’ll get a tool tip that tells you the result’s PR.
The group of icons after PageRank offer lots of intriguing options. You can Digg the result. You can add it to Del.icio.us. You can email the link (great if you’re helping someone with research, dropping a hint, or any time you want to share something). You can translate the result into another language; by default, it seems set up to use Google’s translator to automatically translate the page from its original language into English (I tried it with a German language page). You can view logins from the site for bugmenot (a service designed to bypass compulsory registration). And you can view the Wayback entry for the site.
Incidentally, these are just the defaults. If you change the boxes you’ve clicked in your results display, you get a different selection of icons. All you have to do is click on settings, click on the results display tab, check or uncheck items as you wish, then save the changes. As I mentioned originally, this would be a great place to have tool tips to find out what each widget does before you check it off.
I went through the procedure of changing the icons/widgets while my search results were still displayed. I saved my changes; the box closed to take me back to my search results – and I discovered that AfterVote automatically updated the results. Along with the default icons, it now showed the new icons I’d checked for sending links via AIM and finding blogs linking to the search result on Blogger. How’s that for cool?
I found that some of these widgets work quite well, but others didn’t work the way I expected them to. The one that lets you email particular links to someone else worked perfectly; one click on it brought up a new email in my computer’s email program that contained the link in the body of the message, so all I had to add was the email address of the recipient (and any special message). I don’t know how (or if) it would work with Web-based email though. The AIM widget didn’t work the way I expected it to; it brought up an AIM window, but it did not insert the URL. Oh well, I guess my own laziness strikes again; all I’d really need to do is copy the URL into the AIM window.
Using the Blogger icon/widget was eye-opening. SEO Chat came up as the second search result under SEO on AfterVote (knowing how optimized we are for that term, I expected that). But I had no idea we cast such a “shadow” in the blogosphere, if you want to call it that. Some sites quoted a paragraph from one of our articles and included a link for their readers to the rest of the content, located on our site; others made use of our tools and talked about them, linking to our site; still others simply linked to SEO Chat as an example of an SEO-focused site. This widget shows yet again the potential of AfterVote as a tool for SEO.
On the far right of each result you’ll see a green circle and a red circle. The green circle has a plus in it and the red circle has a minus in it, for positive and negative actions respectively. Click on each circle, and you’ll find out they’re for more than just voting.
For negative actions, you can cast a negative vote, blacklist the domain, or blacklist that one link. More precisely, you could do these things if they were all active; negative voting, at least, was not active when I tried it. I couldn’t resist blacklisting Wikipedia’s SEO link then reloading to see what would happen.
The reload was slow; certainly the comments I’ve seen about AfterVote being a little on the slow side have some merit, though it’s worth remembering that it’s searching three search engines, not just one. The link was gone from my search, but AfterVote did show me the sentence “Blacklisted result from en.wikipedia.org – Click here to view” where the link would have been. That’s probably because I had “show blacklist results” as my preference (it’s the default) under my “Blacklist/Whitelist Editing” results setting. I had the option of managing my blacklisted results such that they showed up again, which I did. The only option I could click reset all my blacklisted results; I don’t know what it would have done if I had bunch of results that were blacklisted and wanted to take only some of them off the blacklist.
For positive actions, you could cast a positive vote, whitelist the site, or bookmark the link. If you cast a positive vote, you don’t get any feedback that anything happened except for the box disappearing; no “thank you for your vote” or anything like that. The “bookmark the link” option is pretty cool; click on that and it literally brings up your favorites to add the link. It’s a nice touch, even if I wouldn’t think that someone would bookmark a site until they actually visited it (in which case you can just use the standard bookmark button in your browser). I have no way to know this, but I do wonder if AfterVote counts bookmarking a site as a vote for the site.
As to technical ways of tricking a search engine, I have to bow to David Naylor. In his review of AfterVote he noted that “Their system seems quite resilient to manipulation but not impervious.” He succeeded in bumping a domain to the number one slot for a low-competition keyword and even moved a spam site significantly higher for “buy viagra uk.” He actually did a little coding for this – six lines of Python, but that’s still more than I could have managed.
Interestingly, once Naylor managed to move the spam site, AfterVote’s countermeasures apparently kicked in. They specifically state that they have “several systems in place to monitor for bots and exploits.” Naylor remained unconvinced that the social aspect itself would help keep spam out of the results; AfterVote argues that users will bury spam if they don’t find the results they need. Naylor, on the other hand, notes that “there’s pretty much always going to be more incentive for spammers to vote sites up than for users to vote sites down.” True enough, but a spammer has to consider it worth the effort to mess with that particular search engine; newer search engines like AfterVote are probably protected, at least temporarily, by their obscurity and Google’s dominance.
I have heard some vague rumors that AfterVote is going to expand its features even more by creating user accounts and permitting users to check their search histories. They will have to be careful as to how they add these new capabilities, however; the search engine was originally named “younanimous” because, by its very nature, it enabled users to search the major engines anonymously. It will want to keep the part of its audience that cares about privacy online; that said, I can certainly see advantages to users having their own accounts, especially if AfterVote expects the social aspects to come into play and add significant value.
It’s the social and customization aspects that might save AfterVote. The University of California Berkeley has a tutorial on meta search engines that recommends against using them. It explains that meta search engines are never better than the quality of the databases from which they pull their results and suggests that users search each engine individually instead.
With the social aspects, however, AfterVote may create a whole that is somewhat better than the sum of its parts. Throw in the ease of use for all those widgets/icons, and you have a fledgling multipurpose tool with some real growth potential. It will be interesting to see whether they can continue to bring the social and customization factors into play while maintaining an easy to use interface.