Youlicit Invites Us to Rediscover Search

Google owes its success to automated search algorithms, but many niche sites and search engines put their faith in the “wisdom of crowds.” Youlicit approaches search from this angle. Founded in 2006, the “discovery engine” hopes to show you parts of the web you’ll like based on what you already like.

Youlicit uses something called collaborative filtering to reduce information overload. They focus specifically on user-annotated web data. Some examples of sites they collect information from include Del.icio.us, a social bookmarking site; Digg; Amazon; and similar kinds of sites. They also collect data from their own users. And while the company maintains a web site with a search box, they seem keen to promote their RSS feed, widget, and web browser toolbar (all of which are free, of course).

But why? Youlicit seems to want to give you its services in the background, while you engage in your normal web surfing. If Youlicit finds a site that is similar to the one you’re on, it lets you know. You can then see what sites Youlicit turned up with a click of your mouse.

It’s pretty clear how Youlicit is different from the major search engines. Rather than using other sites to determine the importance or relevance of a web site through back links, Youlicit looks for sites that people specifically say they find important and interesting. If you’re a pro at social media optimization, this probably suggests a way to game Youlicit’s system, if you were so inclined. After all, we’ve all heard of people gaming Digg to get more traffic.

Speaking of which, Youlicit claims they’re also different from content aggregators such as Digg. “While Digg, StumbleUpon and other similar services simply aggregate popular content, Youlicit aggregates and analyzes this content and delivers what is most relevant to you based on your interests wherever you would like it: RSS Feeds, on your blog (via the blog widget), or right here on Youlicit! Youlicit also connects you to like-minded people so you can discover more interesting and compelling content through them!”

I decided to skip the registration process for now and try out the search engine. Instead of asking for a keyword, Youlicit asks you for a URL:

Well, that suggests an obvious test. What kinds of sites does Youlicit think are like SEO Chat?

Score one for Youlicit. It listed SEOmoz in the number two spot, Google Webmaster Central in the third position, and further down the list it also turns up Search Engine Watch and Aaron Wall’s seobook.com. It’s not perfect, but it has tools to help you make it better, or at least get you better results.

First, you’ll notice a box near the upper right hand side labeled “Related Topics.” You can click on any keyword in that box and turn up more links. When I tried it, I found that there was significant overlap, but a certain number of new sites as well; if I had to guess, I’d say about 50 percent or more of the links turned up on the first page were new. For my query, the URL for SEO Chat, Youlicit matched the following keywords: seo, google, tools, search, ranking, web, marketing, pagerank, webdesign, and optimization. That seems to be a reasonably fair representation.

The box below the one for related topics brings in Youlicit’s social aspect. This box highlights related users. Youlicit lists five, along with three keywords under the handle of each one. There’s at least one who doesn’t share any of the related keywords that Youlicit brought up. That’s mcheloor, whose listed keywords include reference, education, and news. I have to wonder about the tie-in. I’ll cover other users, and Youlicit’s social aspects, later in this article. In the next section, I’m going to discuss all those strange icons around each result.

So what can you do with your results? I’m glad you asked. First, let me draw your attention to all those icons I mentioned. Here is a clearer screen shot so you can see what I’m talking about.

The funny icon to the right of the link is Youlicit’s “more” button. It seems to be their pride and joy. Click it and you get more results that are similar to that particular web site. At least, that’s the theory. When I clicked the “more” button for Search Engine Watch, the first result, quite correctly, was Search Engine Land, and the last result on the first page was Search Engine Journal.

But the other links seemed less on target; they included Flickr, three lesser-known search engines, Yahoo, and Mahalo. I could debate the relevance of these links. If I’m researching an article, and I’m looking for sites with content similar to that on Search Engine Watch, I’m not looking for search engines. On the other hand, I’ve reviewed Mahalo myself, and might be interested in reviewing the other search engines Youlicit turned up.

Fortunately, there’s a way to fix this. If you look at the icons on the last line, you’ll see one that looks like a hand with its thumb pointing down. If you’re registered, you can click on it to let Youlicit know that the result was not good for this particular search. If you’re pleased with a certain result, you can click on the icon next to the thumbs-down; it looks like an eggplant in this picture, but it’s really a hand making the okay sign. This recommends the link.

The other two icons are pretty simple to understand. Clicking on the envelope lets you email the link to friends (it activated my Outlook Express), while the symbol to the left of the envelope lets you open the site in a new window. These two icons work whether or not you’re registered with the site.

After you register, you can fill out a short profile where you detail such information as your gender, date of birth, geographical region, interests, and so forth. The sites you recommend, by the way, will turn up in your profile page, as will keywords related to your searches. Here’s the page Youlicit created for me, after I played around with it a bit:


I know, it’s not very clear. But the links listed under the “My Sites” tab are the ones on which I clicked the “recommend” icon. You can see that Youlicit has already started a keyword cloud for me in the “My Interests” box on the right. Just below that, there is a box for “similar users” (not yet filled, probably due to too little data) and finally, a box for “my active fans” (also empty). I can choose to browse Youlicit or my own sites in the search box on the upper left. The “My Friends’ Sites” tag is empty, because I have no friends yet.

The “Discover!” tag is interesting. Click on that and you receive a list of recommended links based on your interests, updated every hour. Here is evidence of Youlicit fulfilling its promise to help its users search less and find more. Many of the sites listed were definitely on topic given the ones that I recommended. Seth Goldin’s blog was on the list, as was an item on Yahoo’s latest performance breakthroughs. I was disappointed by the second link; it appeared to be a blog entry on Funtastic about a comparison of 100 different products and their packaging (titled “Advertising vs. Reality”), but the link led directly to the site rather than the story, and the article was not a recent entry.

There’s nothing wrong per se with Youlicit. But as I used each feature, I found myself reminded of many other social search sites that I’ve used and reviewed before. The idea of giving you suggestions while you search isn’t completely original either; a company called Watson once offered that service, but has since gone out of business. Youlicit was certainly easy to use; it delivered what I consider to be uneven results, but that’s par for the course with this kind of search engine in the early days. I really didn’t see anything here that made it rise above the pack. And for a start-up search engine, that’s not only disappointing; it can be deadly. I hope they hang in there, but they’ll need to be a little more creative – or deliver much better results – to really capture my interest.

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