Teoma – The Superior Search Engine?

One search engine that really caught my attention at the search engine strategies conference in Chicago was Teoma. Teoma is the search engine that powers Ask Jeeves, also known as Ask.com. Teoma has made several improvements to its engine over the past year, and has drastically increased its indexing and the quality of results generated. Teoma has a unique method of ranking sites, reffered to as “authority.”  In addition, Teoma offers a toolbar and many of the advanced search features that other search engine have.

Teoma’s History and Background

Teoma’s founder and vice president of research and development, Apostolos Gerasoulis, Ph.D, is a Professor of computer science from Rutgers University. Professor Gerasoulis, along with his team of computer scientists founded Teoma in April of 2000. Their single goal was to build a search engine that looked “at the Web in terms of subject-specific communities.” Teoma had the advantage of joining the search engine wars late in the game. This allowed the Teoma team to look at what the current engines did right and – more importantly – what they. Teoma.com was not officially launched until a year later, in April 2001.

On September 18, 2001, Ask Jeeves, Inc. acquired Teoma, paying over USD $1.5 million. On January 9, 2002, Ask Jeeves announced its successful integration of the Teoma search technology into Ask Jeeves. Ask Jeeves reported an increase user satisfaction of 25% and a site abandonment rate of 15% less after this integration. In 2002 Nielsen/NetRatings reported that Teoma had grown 175%, making Teoma the third most popular search engine in the United States.

Teoma 2.0 was released on January 21, 2003. The new version boasts improvements to overall search result relevancy, additions to search tools, and more advanced search functions.  Teoma currently powers Ask Jeeves’s primary organic results, and receives its paid search results from Google AdWords.

Teoma adds a new layer of “authority” to search results through something they call “Subject-Specific Popularity.” Google’s PageRank, simply explained, ranks pages based on the quality and the number of inbound links to a site. Teoma ranks sites based on related communities of sites that are “organically organized” and link to each other. It then determines which sites are most relevant based an authority factored, that is where Subject-Specific Popularity comes into play. Subject-Specific Popularity determines the authority of a site based on the number of pages that link to a page within the same subject. Teoma provides a nice analogy to why this is important. They write, “picture yourself in your garage, in front of the opened hood of your severely out-of-commission pick-up truck. You need help with this major repair, and you can either ask your uncle, who owns two cars but has never held a wrench in his life and happens to be visiting (similar to using other leading search technologies) or you could phone your best friend, who has a degree in applied mechanics and builds automobiles from the ground up in his spare time (similar to Subject-Specific Popularity). The choice is quite clear.”

When Teoma 2.0 was released it provided improved relevancy, more accurate communities, spell checking, “Dynamic Descriptions”, more advanced search tools and an expanded index. Ask Jeeves reports an increased “user pick-rate” of 22% and a site abandonment decrease of 28% since the upgrade. In addition, Teoma received a relevancy grade of “A” from Search Engine Watch, adding them to the elite group of search engines, which includes the likes of such others as Google, Yahoo, and MSN. By improving Teoma’s analysis of “Communities” they were able to increase the relevancy of pages by better evaluating authoritative pages. In addition, the “refine” search option found on Teoma.com enables searchers to easily narrow down their search results. Many search engines have Web-based spell check, and Teoma added this in its 2.0 version. Teoma 2.0 added other enhancements and features, as well as increasing its index by over 500 million URLs.

Teoma provides numerous methods to both refine your search and locate subject specific resources. Conduct a search on search technology and you will find on the right side a “Refine” option that presents you with useful “refinements” to your search query.  In addition, you will find a collection of “Resources” directly below the refinements option that easily allows you to locate “expert” sites on search technology. You will also see that Search Engine Watch is one of those results. You will also see the sponsored listings at the top, provided by Google, and you will find the Web page results directly below. Google is the first result for that keyword (and we all know why).

In addition, Ask.com allows you to search for anything and it attempts to provide exactly what you are looking for without the use of any “tabs.”  For example, I did a search on “picture of chair” at Ask Jeeves, and – guess what? It gave me actual pictures of chairs! Ask Jeeves calles this technology Natural Language Processing (NLP).  For a complete listing of technologies and features provided by Ask Jeeves, please visit: http://sp.ask.com/docs/about/tech.html.  For advanced search tips from Teoma, please visit: http://sp.teoma.com/docs/teoma/about/advsearchtips.html.

Conclusion

Teoma has come a long way since April 2000, and has achieved the rank of number three search technology.  Its unique method of providing relevant and accurate results makes Teoma and its partners stand apart from the other search engine technologies. As the features and index improve, Teoma will continue to succeed by adding partners and a more satisfied user base. It will be interesting to follow Teoma and Ask Jeeves over this coming year, seeing how they compete with the other major search engines.

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