Walt Mossberg

PubSub, Rollyo Offer Web Search Services The Big Engines Don’t

The Internet search business is a hot topic. But most of the talk centers on the advertising revenue it generates, not on what is happening in the actual search process itself. And most of the attention is paid to the search giants, like Google and Yahoo, rather than to smaller companies that are tinkering with interesting new techniques.

These small sites are aimed at refining search, improving its accuracy and making it more convenient and more personal. I’ve been testing just two of them, PubSub and Rollyo, and I have found they add a dimension that goes beyond what the main Google and Yahoo search sites offer.

PubSub is an automated system that constantly matches your search terms against millions of blogs, online discussions, news releases and SEC filings, and notifies you when there is a match. Rollyo allows you to create your own little search engines, focused on topics you care about and sources you prefer. Both do things standard searches can’t.

Rollyo stands for “Roll Your Own Search Engine.” While it uses Yahoo’s search technology, it allows you to target a query by limiting the Web sites that are searched to only those you think will yield the best results. Instead of searching the entire Web for “sourdough,” you could limit your search to a collection of sites you believe have the best information about bread. These customized search engines are called “searchrolls.”

To create a searchroll, you go to the Rollyo site (rollyo.com) and specify as many as 25 sites that you believe are the most relevant on any given topic. If you don’t want to manually type in the Web sites to be included in a searchroll, you can upload your browser bookmarks to Rollyo and just select the ones you want to use.

Once you create a searchroll, you can use it over and over for anything you want to search on that topic, and so can others who visit the Rollyo site and are interested in the same topic. In return, you can use searchrolls others have created. If you don’t find what you want when you perform a searchroll search, you can expand your search to the entire Web with one click.

Each searchroll gets its own Web address, so you don’t have to wade through the whole Rollyo site to get to it, and you can email this address to others. You can even add your searchroll to the drop-down list of search engines in the toolbar of the Firefox Web browser, so you can search it without first navigating to the Rollyo site.

For instance, I created a searchroll about my beloved Boston Red Sox that includes 25 of my favorite Red Sox Web sites. You can try it out at rollyo.com/wmossberg/red_sox_nation.

Rollyo also features searchrolls created by what it calls “High Rollers” — famous people or experts in various fields. For instance, there is a searchroll on online shopping created by the actress Debra Messing; a fashion searchroll by the designer Diane Von Furstenberg; and a searchroll of political blogs by the columnist and activist Arianna Huffington.

You wouldn’t want to use Rollyo for every search you perform. But if you often search in a few specific topic areas, it might be worth it to use, or create, a searchroll covering that area.

PubSub is something entirely different. It is a tool for staying constantly updated on references to a topic of continuing interest that appear in blogs, online discussions called news groups, SEC filings and news releases.

In a normal search, you type in a term and the search engine tries to match it against an index of Web sites. It’s a one-time process. But in a PubSub search, your search terms stay constant and are continuously matched against a changing stream of data gleaned from PubSub’s sources. When a match occurs, even if it’s months after you entered your search term, it pops up in PubSub and you’re notified.

PubSub calls itself a “matching engine,” and it says that its business is “prospective” or “future” search — searching against data that may not have appeared yet. For instance, last summer, I created a PubSub search that was still yielding results yesterday, returning information that hadn’t been posted to the Web back when I started the search.

To create a PubSub search, which the company calls a “subscription,” you go to pubsub.com and type in the term or terms you want PubSub to continuously match against the data it collects. You can have multiple subscriptions, and the whole thing is free.

You can check for results by visiting the PubSub Web site, or you can incorporate PubSub into your browser by downloading a “sidebar” module that lists PubSub results in a special window and notifies you if a new match has been found. These sidebars are available for Internet Explorer on Windows and for Firefox on Windows, Macintosh and Linux.

PubSub also allows you to limit your search to certain types of sources, for instance just press releases. It hopes to add more types of sources over time.

Major search engines are experimenting with ideas similar to Rollyo’s, and you can do some of what PubSub does in certain “RSS reader” programs that manage summaries of blogs and news sites. But Rollyo and PubSub work well and are worth a look.

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