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September 16, 2008

Which search engine is cuter?

Walter Underwood of Netflix and formerly a key product architect at Ultraseek, has posted a great article on his blog he calls 'Search evaluation Kitten War'. Now, before you get concerned for the safety of some cute kittens or nervous about another physics lesson about Schrödinger's Kittens, I can assure that no animals were used in writing either of these articles..

Walter, who I once called 'Deep Code' in a newsletter article about Ultraseek years ago, points out something we've written about before: search engine beauty is in the eye of the user. Walter's posting gives an excellent overview of what you really want to look at when you evaluate a new enterprise search technology. In summary, when asking users to help evaluate vendors:

  • Cuteness counts: a pretty result page beats and ugly one. Try to make the results list look similar
  • Longhairs are cuter: Watch for visible differences that are not essential to the evaluation
  • Brand names are better: It's hard to be impartial when you see a Google icon
  • 5% doesn't matter: With a small sample, you'll have a scattered ranking distribution
  • Will search for food: Actively recruit users to test; don't just send an email asking for help.

As you might expect, Walter's article provides greater depth on each of these bullets. And while I know Walter loves Lucene, he's got no horse in the search engine evaluation race.


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