Omgili: a New Spin on a Web 2.0 Search Engine

While the major search engines use an automated approach for indexing the web and delivering relevant content, hundreds of upstarts look for ways to add human input into the equation. Omgili combines an automated approach with the human factor in a unique way. Keep reading to find out the merits of this young search engine.

 

Like the major search engines, Omgili uses an automated crawler to index the web. Unlike Google and the others, it specializes; it “scans millions of online discussions worldwide in over 100,000 boards, forums and other discussion based resources.” In other words, it’s a search engine for the subjective. For example, if you search Google for a particular brand of digital camera, the manufacturer’s product page for the device will probably be at the top of the results. If you search Omgili, however, all of your results will feature discussions of the camera. You’ll find out what real people thought about the device, not just the camera’s specs.

Omgili added a number of features to expand its usefulness. In October 2007 it released Omgili Search Aid, a tool that lets users search within search queries that other users have performed. Just one month later it released a beta version of Product Reviews, which taps into product review sites for information. In January the “subjective search engine” came out with Omgili Buzz, which displays the top topics in a variety of categories, such as videos, news, products and movies. And in late February of this year, it unveiled Google@Omgili, a service that lets users search on both engines – and more.

Omgili sounds like the kind of search engine you’d want to check out before buying an expensive product or perhaps even going to a movie, if you want to know what others thought before laying down your hard-earned cash. But how well does it work? The only way to find out is to ask, so it’s time to take this search engine for a spin.

Omgili’s home page helpfully offers some example search topics. You can look for consumer experiences of products, such as “best laptop” or “plasma or LCD.” You can search for personal experiences, such as “relationship problems” or “gift suggestions.” You can look for help with troubleshooting various technical issues; recommended searches here are “Vista installation” and “remove virus.” You can look for recommendations (“favorite book”). And of course, you can hunt down opinions on everything from who will be the next president to Britney Spears.

I’m not ready to replace my desktop computer – yet – but when I do, I’ve often thought that I’d like to replace it with a laptop. So I decide to start with one of Omgili’s example searches, “best laptop.” Here are my results:

 

I apologize for having to crop and reduce. What you don’t see in this image are the Google text ads on the right, and a few other things that I’ll bring up in a bit. As you can see, it starts with clearly distinguished ads on top, which we’ve all gotten used to by now. The top listing is from Myspace, followed by Digg. Each listing tells gives you some information as to where the link leads, in orange – for example “Page with topic and at least 11 replies.” So you won’t be clicking through to see someone ask a question to which no one has replied.

The “Preview” link takes you to a page that shows you the original discussion as it was indexed by Omgili’s crawler. It is similar to Google’s “cached” link in that it lets you see what was there if the original content is no longer available. You can go directly from the page that comes up when you click “Preview” to the actual discussion page with just a click.

Another useful feature of each listed item is the date next to it in grey. It looks as if that is the date that particular discussion started. Sure, that information is usually on the first post of the discussion, but sometimes it can be hard to find – and this way you know that date before you click through, so you can decide whether the discussion’s age is likely to make it less useful to you before you commit. Incidentally, along the same lines, you can choose to sort the results by either date or relevance; relevance is the default.

Way at the bottom of my results, and not in the image in the previous section, I saw a couple of interesting items. The first was a list of searches related to my query. These included a few I wouldn’t have thought of, and one of those is highly relevant to me: “What is the best laptop for a home user.”

Unfortunately, Omgili does no better than other search engines at tackling natural language use. The top results it returns include a discussion of laptop security for employees who work at home, a person asking for recommendations for a laptop on which to do work away from home, a query about the best way to add a laptop to a domain…you get the idea. One example that seems to illustrate Omgili’s confusion contains the topic heading “New Dell laptop slow to boot Vista Home Premium” with “laptop” and “Home” in bold.

But the other cool thing Omgili returned at the bottom of its results is a buzz graph for my topic. Here it is:

 

The buzz graph for a specific query lets you know how much talk there’s been about that particular topic. If you’re more interested in simply finding out what’s popular in general, you can go to Omgili’s Buzz page. There’s a link to it from the home page.

Omgili looks at particular time frames (past 24 hours, past week, past month, and “all time”) and analyzes the discussions it has crawled. It then reveals with charts, graphs, lists, and word clouds what items are popular in particular topics: the most popular videos, headlines, movies, general topics, and products (the editor in me feels obligated to point out that Omgili misspelled this as “Popular Prodcuts” when I checked the page; they may have fixed it by now). You can change the time frame displayed; each area defaults to 24 hours, and Omgili updates results every hour.

I took some screen shots to show you what I mean. Here’s a Buzz graph:

 

Here’s a topic cloud:

 

And here’s a list:

 

Omgili displays six of these scrolling items on its Buzz page.

I mentioned in the previous section that Omgili included a list of related searches at the bottom of my search results. If you’re not sure whether your own choice of search terms is the best, Omgili Search Aid does the same thing. Let me show you a screen shot of an Omgili Search Aid search I did for “best laptop.”

 

At first glance, this is not a big deal. But look to the right of each listing. You’ll see links for Google and Yahoo in addition to Search Aid. In other words, you can take that search and perform it on one of the major search engines in just one click. Omgili’s Search Aid may have potential as a keyword discovery tool. Remember the kinds of sites Omgili crawls; these are the actual words that people use to talk about particular things. Good to know? You bet.

Let’s take a look at Omgili Product Reviews now. I’m going to stick with the topic of laptops. Here’s a screen shot of my result, with the ads at the top and sides cropped:

 

The results included laptop parts, not just laptops, unfortunately. On the other hand, the slider is really cool once you understand how it works. Just below the link you see a statement of how many reviews the item got, and the average rating the item received. The slider breaks it down by number of and type of review. You can get that information explicitly by hovering over each colored triangle on the slider.

For example, the Apple PowerBook at the top received 244 reviews. Hovering over each triangle on the slider next to it brings up tooltips that tell me it has received five miserable reviews, six bad reviews, 15 moderate reviews, 88 good reviews and 130 excellent reviews. If I click on the red triangle, Omgili gives me the links to those five miserable reviews; the same thing holds for each of the other triangles.

Well, I want more information about the PowerBook, so I click on the link. It takes me to a page that links to all the reviews, with the numbers on the left, so I can tell going in whether I’m about to read a rave review or a raving review.

Finally, what’s Google@Omgili all about? When you click to this option, you get a special search box that gives you three options: “Just Google,” “Just Omgili” or “Search Both.” As you might expect when you search both, you get a page that pulls up Google’s and Omgili’s results for the query side by side. But you also get something more. Take a look at the screen shot below of Google’s side of the results for a search on “laptops.”

 

Look at the purple dialog balloons on the left. They contain links to discussions about particular results. It’s an interesting concept, and I can certainly see how some users might find this information useful. In this particular case, though, I didn’t.

If you’re interested in finding out what people are saying about particular topics, Omgili may be worth using. Most of the time, however, I felt like I was wading through a lot of noise to find a signal. I give the search engine kudos for their product review service; the slider is really handy for telling you at a glance what a lot of people thought of a particular product. I could see myself using Omgili for product searches, and it might be useful for keyword recommendations, but otherwise I don’t think it will change my search habits.

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