Friday, October 20, 2006

Yahoo! engine sparks Browzar backlash

The man behind private surfing tool Browzar has responded to mounting criticism by assuring users that the search tool on the application's homepage will be dropped immediately.

A major element of the backlash since Browzar's launch last week has been related to its utilisation of Yahoo!'s Overture search engine, which has outraged many users by burying impartial results behind pages of sponsored results.

As a result, some have called Browzar "adware", a claim Ajaz Ahmed - founder of Freeserve and now Browzar - has denied.

Ahmed said on Monday: "We don't do adware. We have Overture and people are not happy with the way that they show their results. As a response to that, the engine is going to be changed." He added that the new engine would be one that explicitly labels its sponsored results as such.

The problems extend beyond Overture, which is the same engine used by websites such as Lycos and Orange. Bloggers such as Scott Hanselman have pointed out that Browzar does not erase all traces of activity as it claims, leaving some pages in the cache of Internet Explorer, the browser on which the Browzar application depends.

Ahmed said on Monday he had been "corresponding with Scott". He said Browzar was "currently investigating that situation" and would "come up with an update to fix it".

Other inconsistencies are also apparent. For example, logging into a Google Account through its homepage then shutting the Browzar application leaves you still logged into Google if you then visit it in IE. Ahmed added: "It's still in beta form. We'd be more than happy to listen to anyone and make appropriate changes."

He also hit back at criticism that Browzar was being touted as a browser, when it is in fact an IE shell application. Although the application's website generally avoids calling it a browser, it is referred to as such in some parts of the site's FAQ section. "We've not tried to hide the fact that it's an IE shell," said Ahmed. "If we need to make that more explicit then we'll certainly change that."

Browzar - which is free to download or run from the company's website - is designed to offer a private browsing experience by avoiding the retention of any cache or autocomplete data.

Ahmed called the response since last week's launch "overwhelming" and claimed the company had already received thousands of congratulatory emails from satisfied users.

Google Debuts 200 Year News Archive Search

News and history junkies take heart: Google's new News Archive Search lets you search back over twenty decades worth of historical content, including scads of articles not previously available via the search engine.

"The goal of this service is to allow people to search and explore how history unfolded," said Anurag Acharya, Google distinguished engineer, who played a major role in shepherding the new product.

Google has partnered with news organizations including Time, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Guardian and the Washington Post, and aggregators including Factiva, LexisNexis, Thomson Gale and HighBeam Research, to index the full-text of content going back 200 years.

Archived news results can be found in three ways. You can search the news archives directly through a new News Archive Search page. News archive results are also returned when you search on Google News or do a general Google web search and your query has relevant historical news results.

Both free and fee-based content is included in Archive Search, with content from both publishers and aggregators. Search results available for a fee are labeled "pay-per-view" or with a specific price indicated. Google does not host this content; clicking on a link for fee-based content takes you to the content owner or aggregator's web site where you must complete the transaction before gaining access to the content.

Search results look similar to those produced by a search on Google news, with a few additional time-related features.

"Much like news, we are grouping related articles together from a given time period," said Acharya. "The ranking here, as you may expect from a Google service, is based entirely on relevance," with no precedence given to fee-based vs. free content. The mix of fee vs. free links will also vary depending on your query.

On the left side of search results are links to drill down into content from specific time periods. A blue arrow icon points to a "period of particular interest," when an event occurred or "something special happened," said Acharya.

One of the most interesting features of the new service is how it automatically creates a timeline that shows how an event or topic played out over time. Clicking the "timeline" link reorders results in chronological order; you can then drill down to get content from specific dates simply by browsing. There's also an option to limit search results to a single day via the advanced search page, according to Acharya.

This is a fantastic feature for people interested in seeing how a particular historic event played out over time. But it's also useful for simply keeping up with the progress of contemporary events. "We usually see history as a view of the past many years later," said Acharya. "Now we can enable you to search for anything and everything as it unfolds."

The service is rolling out with a U.S. English interface, but there's already a lot of non-English content available. "Our coverage is the deepest in English, but our plan is to expand into other languages fairly soon," said Acharya.

Google has no plans to become a content aggregator itself, or to even offer a streamlined payment system where you can use your Google account to pay for content, according to Google content partnerships director Jim Gerber. "At this point we are focusing on trying to make the content easily searchable and navigable," he said.

Are Google's partners worried about potential future competition? "The response from our partners has been overwhelmingly positive," said Gerber, because Google is currently only providing a link to partner sites where users log in and pay. "They see this as a great source of free, very targeted traffic." Content owners and aggregators not currently in the Google News Archives program can contact Google and request to be included, Acharya added.

As ZDNet blogger Garett Rogers, former SEW news editor Gary Price have pointedly noted, much of the fee-based content in Google Archive Search is available at no charge via many public libraries who subscribe to fee-based services and provide free access to patrons.

Google itself does something similar to this by permitting university users to access fee-based content licensed by the university in Google Scholar results. But for now, Google has no plans to build gateways to content through public libraries.

"Today users can't find this information on Google so we're just making sure we get it into the index," said Gerber.

Don't want to pay a fee for archived news? Check out's one-year archive of news that Danny reviewed last week.