"innovate or die"

SIFT THIS -- One of the design principals behind Yahoo's continued success is the 80/20 principal. The basic idea is that for any given web application, 80% of the people who use it will only require 20% of the functionality. Translation: Given any Yahoo application (chat, calendaring, auctions), there is a pretty good chance that the product is going to have every feature you could possibly dream of. This strategy gives Yahoo the ability to quickly get new products to market because they don't stress about the super power user features because, hey, who is going to the use them anyway? The real question is, why doesn't Yahoo apply this feature to their marquee feature, searching for interesting sites on the web?

Let's mutate the 80/20 principal a bit. Let's make the assumption that 80% of the folks who use the Net are really only interested in 20% of the data contained within it. That means that no matter how eclectic a piece of information you think you're looking for, chances are, someone provides that information on the web. Problem is; the exponential growth of the web makes it's difficult to sift through the deluge of bits to find the relevant ones. Who cares if AltaVista has indexed some outrageous portion of web? What help are 1,895,590 sites when all I really want to know is "How to get Italian salad dressing out of lime green linen shirt?" Sure, Yahoo presents fewer sites that need a human stamp of approval before they're included in the database but they're found using a keyword search and often have nothing to do with the content of my question.

AskJeeves.com takes a natural approach to searching the web. The engine takes two different approaches to searching the web that ends up giving the end user a comprehensive search without flooding them with information. The first approach is the use of what AskJeeves call a KnowledgeBase that represents a database of answers to roughly 6 million commonly asked questions. For example, my question "how do I get a oil stain out of a shirt?" returns two links one of which reads "How do I remove a stain from clothing?" Clicking on that link takes me to the Tide™ Stain Detective. Now, is this the only site to get my question answered? Probably not. Did Tide™ kick back cash to AskJeeves to get their answer to this particular question? Possibly. Did my question get answered? Most certainly.

Merry E-Commerce! Read about it in, "Christmas Retail Therapy"

Even if I don't trust the means by which AskJeeves constructs the KnowledgeBase, there second approach of searching the web picks up where the KnowledgeBase stops. Called the MetaSearch, AskJeeves polls six popular search engines for their top 10 relevant sites. So, if your question is esoteric enough to be outside the realm of the AskJeeve's KnowledgeBase, you've still got a chance.

AskJeeve's doesn't offer any technological leap in terms of the service it offers. Their search strategies are 1) listening to what people want and 2) trust that someone else might have already done the work for you. The end result is a search engine that quickly finds what I'm looking for. In Yahoo's race to become the Wal*Mart of the Internet, they've forgotten to innovate against the one feature that made them great.

april 11, 1999

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