PreFound.com has developed a tool aimed at helping users tailor the search engine results they obtain according to their interests and location, an attempt to tackle one of the thorniest problems affecting internet search.
The tool, which is called Social Search Equalizer and will be officially announced today, lets PreFound's users enter up to four areas of interest, and to narrow the topics further with keywords. It also lets users enter their postcode. The PreFound.com search engine will then use this information to filter and rank the website results it delivers for each user, in theory delivering results the individual will find more relevant.
"We're taking your interests and reflecting them in your search results in a way that's completely under your control," said Steve Mansfield, PreFound.com's chief executive officer.
One of the biggest complaints from users is that search engines deliver too many results for queries, and that it often takes users much time and effort to wade through an avalanche of website links to find the information they need. Many see the emerging field of social search as containing the solution to this problem.
Social search sites, like PreFound.com, put users at the centre of their engines, instead of relying primarily on mathematical algorithms and automated web crawlers, which is the traditional search engine approach. For example, PreFound.com's core concept is letting its users build its search engine's index by manually contributing links to sites they find useful.
By tapping into people's knowledge and letting them participate in the discovery, categorisation and sharing of indexed websites, social search sites attempt to deliver search results that are more relevant, targeted and easier to personalise. In PreFound.com's case, the company delivers results from its manually assembled index, as well as from algorithmic search results it licenses from another company.
The Search Equalizer feature can be adjusted by moving up or down slider buttons for each of the four areas, in the same way people can modify the sound on a music system. For example, if a user entered "movies" as a specific area of interest, but he doesn't want to this preference to influence much the results of a particular query, he can move the slider button all the way down. The Search Equalizer feature also can be turned off completely.
To use the Search Equalizer, users need to sign up for PreFound.com. Signing up for and using PreFound.com and the Search Equalizer is free of charge. For now, the Search Equalizer lives only at PreFound.com's website, but Mansfield would like to strike up partnerships with social networking websites to explore ways in which they can collaborate. For example, such partnerships could allow mutual users to migrate information on their social networking profiles to the Search Equalizer, he said.
PreFound.com is also working on allowing users to share their Search Equalizer, so that others can search the web using their parameters. This would be useful for groups of individuals who share a particular interest, Mansfield said. Another likely enhancement is expanding the number of interest topics users can have on their Search Equalizer, he said.