Bessed, A Different Approach to Human-Powered Search

You don’t have to claim you’re the next “Google killer” to find an audience online. Adam Jusko, founder and CEO of Bessed.com, is taking a different approach to search that has more in common with Wikipedia, About.com and social search engines than employing algorithms. It’s an unusual niche, and it could fit nicely into the way you use the web.

Bessed.com has been around only since October 2006. If the content on the site seems a little sparse, that’s part of the reason. It comes down to the way Bessed works; it’s entirely human-based, and, as its own FAQ admits, “us humans are slower than bots.”

Bessed is built on top of WordPress blog software. Every search results page on a topic that Bessed returns when you search is technically a blog post. Human editors “seed” each topic with five high quality links, and other users can suggest other links to add. Bessed is deliberately limiting the number of links on a topic to 100 however, with the idea of keeping the quality high and keeping out the spam.

The idea of human editors is somewhat reminiscent of About.com, founded ten years ago with the idea that humans are the best guides to the web. Bessed’s approach seems to be more interactive as far as users sending in feedback. There are ways to suggest URLs (more on that in a bit) and to comment on links posted to the site.

One point worth noting is that Bessed’s editors aren’t actually volunteers. These freelancers are actually paid to “seed” topics, so they need to be at least somewhat knowledgeable about the topic and very good at using search engines. In one of his blog entries, Jusko notes that “where appropriate, we try to offer in our top links these types of sites: an overview site, a link or two of recent news on the topic/keyword, recent blog posts, seminal historical events, videos of interest, photographs. Our thought is that if you are researching a topic, you could use our first 10 or so links and get a pretty complete picture.”

So is Bessed mainly for the researcher, the idly curious, someone trying to find out which cell phone or digital camera to buy, or what? Judging from Bessed’s concept, it makes as much sense to ask who a library is for – and the answer is, “it depends on the contents of the library.” Let’s take a look at Bessed’s contents.

Bessed’s home page does not follow the stark model set by Google, nor would it make sense for it to do so. It’s not as cluttered as About.com either though. Here’s a screen shot, somewhat cropped to fit in as much as I could as clearly as I could:

 

As with many social search engines, Bessed puts new links front and center on the home page, because that’s what’s important to searchers. So let me first draw your attention to the entry that’s just under the search box. It has a title, a link you can click on for more information, another link you can click on to add a comment, and a date. In other words, just as promised, it is formatted like a blog entry.

Since that one looks a little atypical for Bessed results, let’s look at the one just below it. Again, it has a title with keywords, as well as content explaining what the entry is about. It includes links (and tells right at the beginning how many links it includes), each with a sentence or two describing the site. And it solicits users for more links: “Know of another site that should be listed here? Leave your suggestion at the bottom of this page.”

On the right hand side of the home page you’ll find a column that lists popular searches, most recent posts, and (below the “fold”) a section of links that are “Also Important,” which include the FAQ, a link for users to add a URL/suggest a site, RSS feeds for entries and comments (very cool use of that technology, by the way), and other items.

I particularly liked seeing the link to Adam Jusko’s Bessed blog here; it’s good public relations, adds a level of transparency, and certainly lets you know what the founder is thinking. He’s not afraid of wrestling with the hard questions in public, either. He wrote an interesting and insightful entry recently about Bessed receiving its first submission of a URL that goes to a porn site, and the can of worms that would open however it was handled.

Okay, we’ve looked at the home page and noticed some of its points of interest – be sure to check out the FAQ by the way; it explains the site, with attitude (“Who else will add your stinking Web site based solely on its quality, not on how many other sites link to it or how long your site’s been around? No one, that’s who.”). It’s time to see how well it delivers.

You can actually take two different approaches here. If you click on the site map, you get a list in alphabetical order of the topics it has covered. You can also use the search box if you don’t want to scroll down the list. So what happens when I use the search box for one of my favorite searches, namely “juggling”?

 

The image is cropped, of course, but you can see clearly what happened. I want to emphasize that I expected this result, and I don’t hold it against the site; remember, Bessed has been around only since October 2006, so it’s bound to have some gaps. Wikipedia has an article on juggling with links leading to other sites. About.com seems to have an area devoted to juggling, but in some ways it’s not as easy to find as some of the other areas (like the one devoted to crochet, for example). But both About.com and Wikipedia have been around much longer than Bessed, so they have had time to build up their readership, their editors, and their active users.

So how is Bessed on the topics it actually covers? Let’s look at the entry for Apple Computer, which must have been one of the earliest ones, judging from the date. This will take more than one image.

 

Here you see the top sites are pretty legitimate: the company web site, its Wikipedia entry, and a news story. The news story dates to the same date as the blog entry…and while it doesn’t look totally outdated yet, it will if it stays there too much longer. Keeping these entries up to date may become a challenge; fortunately, Bessed is set up to receive feedback from users, so that should hopefully help them to know when certain things are need updating.

Here’s the next part of the page:

 

Well, now we know at least one of the places Bessed hopes to get their revenue – and again, I can’t find fault with that. The unsponsored links show another news story, and the site for the main conference and expo focused on Apple. These are all appropriate, though the same caveat applies about the news story. At least the news links were still active when I clicked on them.

In all fairness, this is what I got when I simply clicked on an entry from the site map. What would have happened if I’d typed the word “apple” (without quotes, of course) into the search engine? Take a look:

 

This may not be on target for fruit fanciers, but it’s certainly on target for tech types. Bessed returned 11 results in all, with the only one that made me scratch my head being the last one – Mexico vacations? A click on the link gave me the answer to that one: the blog page’s links include one for a site called “Travel Pod” and another one for “Apple vacations.” 

Every search result that is returned is really a blog. At the bottom of the page is a form you can fill out to give feedback, which looks something like this:

 

That image is pretty self-explanatory to anybody who has ever commented on a blog, so I’m not going to go into any further detail. I will say that some topics have lots of comments attached to them, and Jusko gets involved in replying as well. This helps to provide the social aspect to the search engine.

If you want to get an interesting look at how the site works, try adding a topic. Remember when I tried to search for juggling and came back empty-handed? It’s easy to click on the link for “Suggest a new page.” This takes you to a page that explains the site’s guidelines for submission. Right now they’re only accepting submissions aimed at a U.S. audience, and only English-language sites at that. (By way of explanation, an Australian site aimed at Australians wouldn’t meet their requirements…but an Australian site aimed at tourists, especially tourists from abroad, would).

On this page, you can scroll down and see the 99 comments (at this time of writing) from people who have suggested adding topics and/or URLs, with follow-up comments from Bessed workers explaining when and where a site was added; “Tim, your site has been added under Nintendo Wii” with a link to the Nintendo Wii page is a typical entry here. But some sites do get rejected for not meeting the requirements and other sites get included in ways that might perhaps raise an eyebrow.

Take one site that was accepted with the comment “web, we’ve added your site under Fresno Wedding Photographers, but you probably won’t like our description of your site.” Indeed, if you check out that page, you find this description for the fifth link: “Digital Engineering Fresno Wedding Photography – We’re not even quite sure if this is the name of the company, and, to be honest, the Web site doesn’t inspire much confidence, but they do show some wedding photos and offer a price list and phone number. Hopefully the photography is more artful than the Web site.”

It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, and one wonders if it really should have been included at all. On the other hand, if this site had been pumped up with search engine optimization it could very well have made it to the top of an algorithm-using search engine with no comments or warnings at all. Also, with any luck, as more people become interested in Bessed, it will attract users who can suggest better sites and recommend the removal of sites that aren’t so good.

Part search engine, part blog, part social site…even after reviewing Bessed, it’s a little tricky to categorize. Perhaps Jusko himself characterized it best when he explained in an email to me that “Our goal is not to get people to completely switch away from where they get information—instead it’s to be a trusted source that other Webmasters link to and other search engines rank highly.” It may not boast a lot in its index yet, but it’s worth watching. 

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