Clusty. you have to wonder how many suits sat around the boardroom table coming up with that one. But despite having the world's worst site name, Clusty.com is poised to be the best of a new crop of searching tools. It's a clustering site that groups results into categories, helping us to search smarter and live longer. Well, maybe not live longer.
Despite its omnipresence, Google isn't the smartest searcher. It's a behemoth that makes up in sheer quantity what it lacks in organization. But Google, too, has been flirting with smarter searching. In Google Local (http://local.google.com/), the company has created a much more intuitive way of looking up businesses. Enter the name of a city and a business, and a listing and map pop up. It's handy for the customer and ultimately delivers more localized advertising opportunities to the company, though Google has yet to delve into local ads.
Google's newsgathering site, Google News, also uses a form of clustering, dividing news topics into groups and listing related articles below. Clustering, however, hasn't permeated the main component of Google - its basic search.
By contrast, Clusty.com is an all-around revamped search engine. It uses clustering technology developed by its parent company, Vivísimo, to troll 10 different types of Web content and divide a list of search results into categories. The categories can then be organized by topic, URL or source.
You can customize Clusty to search from only selected tabbed sources, like blogs, encyclopedias or gossip sites. You can even create your own tabs, choosing from a selection of search engines, news sites and commercial sites. It's searching designed for people who like file cabinets, for people who don't like their mashed potatoes and peas to touch each other.
What keeps Clusty from being the perfect search tool is that, as a meta-search engine (i.e., one that outsources the actual searching to a suite of other sites), it's only as good as the search engines it draws from. And while it manages to offer a well-curated selection of results for most searches, it's impossible to deny that Lycos and Looksmart, two of Clusty's prime search engines, are hardly on a par with Yahoo, Google, et al.
The hardest part of clustering is dividing the search results into categories that make sense, a difficulty elaborated upon by the creators of Vivísimo in the site's FAQs when they reply to a query about whether the categories are generated by humans. Of course they're not, though the four aims of the developers were to make the search category results "concise, accurate, distinctive and humanlike."
For the most part, Vivísimo's clustering technology seems to succeed in those aims. Enter the word Simpson, and Clusty handily divides results into OJ, Jessica, Ashlee, the animated series and a slew of other folders. Though there are some glitches to work out, Vivísimo, a company that began in grad-student research at Carnegie Mellon University, has been the recipient of numerous grants, and talk is circulating that its cluster tech is ready to rival Google.
This seems premature given that the idea of clustering has been around for 10 years. Clusty has just begun to get things more right than previous forays into search clustering. We do need searching to get smarter - think of the hours wasted trolling various search engines and news sites for an elusive article or fact. But the clustered search revolution is still nascent.
When we can enter just one word and have our results organized by media outlet, subject, date, relevance, country of origin, nature of content (original, wire or blog), URL and length, well, then we'll be getting closer.
In the meantime, pretenders to the search engine throne like Clusty and fellow gatherers Northern Light, Wisenut, Teoma and AlltheWeb are gaining slow but well-organized ground.