Search engines narrow their vision

Call it the Napster effect. Ask Jeeves is the latest search engine seeing the wisdom of vertical searches

Search engines are starting to rev up again, motoring away from spitting out millions of Web pages and instead focusing on more specialised searches.

Among the changes Ask Jeeves will announce Monday is a service that allows Web sites to offer vertical searches to its users. A similar service could soon be available on the main Ask Jeeves site, product manager Jonathan Silverman said.

AltaVista's recent buff and polish resulted in a similar vertical method of searching. The search giant now has four search centers where users can delve deeply into one of four topics, including entertainment and news.

Expect other search centres like Netscape's Netcenter or Northern Light to do the same, Jupiter Communications analyst Lydia Loizides said. Napster and Gnutella made vertical searches "hot", and now the bigger players will likely get into the game, she said.

"The focus is moving back into the search capabilities," she said. "They are penetrating the vertical and are willing to dig deep."

It is a logical next step because users are getting more Web savvy. "Who needs two million pages?" Loizides asked. "As you go up in tenure on the Web, you become more discerning because you become accustomed to it."

Companies such as Sageware may be fuelling the new direction, she said. Sageware offers a way to break down a search into several categories.

Fact City, a US startup, is also starting to make a big footprint. It plans to announce a major horizontal search engine partnership in the next six weeks.

In a normal search, users enter a keyword to receive a list of sites where the keyword appears. Fact City, now live on FoxSports.com and ESPN.com, can take a detailed query and provide a single answer.

"Search engines are moving toward more compound data feeds, with different content feeds for different subjects," Fact City vice president Kevin Lach said.

"Users want to get exact answers to very, very specialised information," he said. "That's hard to do when you are running a horizontal search engine."

Kristi Kaspar of Alta Vista said the Web is growing exponentially right now, and almost demands the new search methods.

"We are starting to carve up the markets and making them more digestible and vertical in nature," she said.

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