Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I Don't Know, Let Me Mooter It

What if Google fell from grace, and the most popular search engine was Mooter?

As you might guess, Mooter works a little differently, and that could have big ramification for some people.

Searching for the word "nyet" brings up the screen above (Clicl to Enlarge). The diagram details the subcategories Mooter has found for Nyet. Clicking the center dot, or the "I want it all" icon on the right, will fold everything together into results like Google's. Clicking "Next cluster" brings me a less popular batch of subdivisions.

Clicking all results yields:

Which is flattering, because my comic Lil Nyet is the top result. But if I click the "Russian" subcategory:

...my comic disappears from the results entirely -- three pages of them.

The opportunity to insert a second level of refinement into a live search has big implications, depending on what subcategory you land in.

With Google, search refinement tends to come as the result of a search. We alter our search terms as we go. We might even tinker with out search specification settings to change what turns up. (I find the middle setting, between "nothing useful" and "nothing not about sex" is the most useful.)

Webcomics are in a place that is fairly unusual. Tens of millions of people in the U.S. (the only country I have data for) read newspaper comics, but the huge shift to the web for news means there is a comic vacuum we can try to serve.

I know a fair number of people, some of them now webcomic creators, who first encountered webcomics as a byproduct of a search for something else.

Take away that byproduct, and whatever number of people bump into us via Google has to find us some other way, if at all.

Somehow, I doubt that change is likely to happen. That byproduct makes Google more fun, and probably explains why the famous "I Feel Lucky" button was much discussed but rarely used. We want freedom of choice.

I can see playing with Mooter for some of the notoriously frustrating search topics, like medical questions, that are glutted with junk. At long as they don't lose their edge, I'll happily turn to Google for the rest, lest we end up with a wasteful segmentation, like we have in browsers.

For a list of funky browsers with all sorts of attributes, check out this best alternative search engine summary. It includes a highly rated medical search engine, Mednar. I gave it a try, but even it could not explain the hooting monkeys and howling hyenas that sometimes occupy my left ear's auditory nerve.

Whatever you do, don't wander off without trying Tag Galaxy. Enter the word "webcomic." If it's dark, turn the lights off. This was made by a German university student for a graduate project.