All that is to know about… Swickis!

(or almost) XD

http://www.eurekster.com

A search engine that learns from your community’s search behavior.

In a nutshell, a Swicki is a search engine which gets gradually biased by the community that uses it -which explains the wiki wicki side of the word. I´ve spent a few days now using it, so what comes next is a report on my own experience on how to set up and manage a swicki.

I guess you might be thinking, how can any search engine be better than google? Let me give you a practical example. This is the search result page in google for the word “prophet”:

http://www.google.com/search?q=prophet

Now, this is the search result page for the same word in my Synthesizers Swicki:

http://synthesizers-swicki.eurekster.com/prophet/

The results are quite different: while google shows results for every meaning of the word “prophet”, the swicki has been trained to show results relevant to someone who wants information related to synthesizers. That is exactly my case: whenever I hear of a synthesizer I don´t know about, I search for more information on it; unfortunately, relevant information is sometimes literally buried around page 12! If you are interested in a particular field, with a proper swicki you can find what you are searching for very close to the surface. In that sense, a swicki might be better than google…

… a proper swicki, I said… yes, there´s something important to have on account: a swicki is as useful as big the number of people using it. If you are the only person using the swicki it won´t be much better than bookmarking the pages you find, but if a community uses it, every member will automatically benefit from what every other member discovers. That´s the real power of a swicki, and perhaps its worst disadvantage too: as in forums, or blogs, or anything involving communities, the first (and second, and third) steps can be very hard. Anyways, good news is that setting up a swicki is free, so why not try? 🙂

Quick steps to setting up a Swicki:

1.Go to eurekster and sign up.

2.After you have dealt with the sign up bureaucracy, login and head for “Swickibuilder”. Here you´ll make the most important decision of them all: you´ll choose the swicki´s topic! Notice that you can´t make a swicki on a topic that has been already used in another swicki, alas! -some creative naming can help: instead of synthesizers, you might name your swicki “best synthesizers”- 😛

3.The rest of this first page is quite easy to understand. I recommend leaving the “keywords” box blank for now. If you want to put something, think on a couple words you would search for (thinking on synthesizers, I´d put moog, roland, prophet and the like). As for the layouts, if you choose multimedia you will get pictures and text results. I chosed not to show images to make the search engine be as fast as possible, but that´s entirely personal.

4.The second page is where you give the swicki its “personality”. If you have a site relevant to the topic, you can make the swicki give priority to result on your site; if you know of sites that have lots of information on the topic, you can point the swicki there too. You may ban sites that you want to exclude from the search results; finally, you´ll give a short description on the swicki, then choose from a (short, I believe) array of preset categories. Warning! The eurekster team adds the swickis by hand to their directory, so if you don´t see yours listed after some time, write them. I did so and found that they are friendly and helpful.

5.That´s it for the basics! Next page is all about publishing. If you have some experience with websites you won´t find much trouble in adapting the swicki to your site/blog; I did so with wordpress here through a widget and I got it working in minutes. Anyways, you don´t need to embed the swicki anywhere to use it: see where it says Now take your swicki for a spin!? Click on “spin” and you´ll get to your new swicki. Congratulations!

That´s all there is to know about swickis?

Well, actually there´s more, much more (evil laugh). Now you have a swicki, yes, but it will work as an inespecific search engine unless you train it. After I made the synthesizers swicki, some friends asked me if it would search only for words related to synthesizers; that´s not the case, you can search for anything you want with it. The thing is, you want it to show results relevant to your topic, so how is this done? Fairly easy: After a search is made, a regular use may vote for those results that he or she finds the most interesting. Sites with the most votes rise in the results´pages.

I find the approach above straightforward and easy enough that anyone can use it. There´s a problem, though: first users using the swicki will find results as relevant as googles´ (not bad, anyways, but I bet they won´t use the swicki if they get the same in google). Here is where a moderator comes in handy. When you use your own swicki, as a moderator you can do things regular users can´t: you can take a site straight to the top (promote result), you can add a site to the list of relevant places for the swicki to direct its searches to (promote site), and you can delete sites too. On the top of the page you´ll find convenient duplicates of some of of the tools you find when you login at the eurekster´s site: customize, train, promote/demote and buzz cloud. The buzz cloud is a powerful tool: as a moderator it allows you to see the words people are searching for, and you can add some or all those words to the “cloud” that displays at the right sidebar as “hot searches”. This lets visitors get a sense of the sort of searches others are doing, and also gives clues on topics that have been already pruned by others.

Ah, yes, pruning: now you have a swicki, you know how it works, let´s call the friends, right? HALT!! 😛

Let me insist: the swicki doesn´t find the right results alone: it may already yield better results than the average search engine (since you gave it a topic and a list of sites where to favour search), but I´m pretty sure it won´t still be convincing enough. My advice is that you use the swicki on a regular basis for some time before showing it to other people: not only will you learn how it works, but when others see it you´ll have already some relevant words in the “hot searches” cloud, and there will be some chances that they search for things you´ve already done, thus benefiting from your work. As a moderator it is also helpful to prune some obvious searches first: It will be hard to convince anyone that the swicki is helpful if they can´t find interesting results on well known things (like moog, roland and so in the synthesizers swicki).

(Drumroll) You made it this far! Thanks for the interest 🙂 As a reward, I´ll share with you a secret, take note:

http://www.envelooponline.com/nan/synthesizers-search-engine.xml

Get the file above, open it with notepad, study it carefully: it is the plugin to add the synthesizers swicki as a firefox search engine. To install it, place it in program files/mozilla firefox/searchplgins and restart the browser.

If you are using firefox (you should!), I guess you´ll see the power of that little file. I use firefox, and of course I make every search from the search bar, which is more convenient than going first to the search engine´s site. Right after I created the swicki I realized that I would hardly use it in the long term unless I found a way to add it to the search engines´ list, and so I did some research, since eurekster´s site doesn´t directly provide a solution -however, their customer support was very helpful and pointed me to the right place-. Basically, if you want to add your swicki´s engine to firefox´s list, just open with the notepad the xml above, change the data so that it points to your swicki´s address, save it and copy it in the searchplugins folder. It´s that easy (well, it´s easy if someone tells you. I´m no programmer and I couldn´t find a template until the people at eurekster helped me).

Now that you have the swicki up and running, and with a nice firefox plugin ready, I think you can start telling people about your swicki.

So, is that everything?

Nope! I haven´t written an article for months, I can´t stop now!! 😛

Actually I´ve saved something interesting for the end: you can add ads to the swicki. As a moderator you can “manage advertising”. If you have an account with adsense, chitika, contextweb and/or adultfriendfinder (they accept suggestions for more advertising programs), eurekster lets you add adds in relevant positions on your site. I have tried adsense so far, and getting the codes they need to make everything work is very easy with the online tutorial. So far they don´t give you options to customize the color schemes, but I´m sure they´ll improve on this. Anyways, and even though I´ve added adsense to the synthesizers swicki, I don´t recommend you to start a swicki for the money: start it because it may be useful to you, see if you can get others to help make it useful for all, and then you can say that whatever you earn goes towards moderating expenses. 😛

Done?

I think so, or at least I don´t think I´m forgetting anything… you may ask why, if I´m so interested on swickis, I haven´t made a “nan swicki”. I was thinking that too so I just made one, hold on:

Here´s the link http://nan-swicki.eurekster.com/

Here´s the xml to add to the search engines´list in firefox:http://www.envelooponline.com/nan/nan-search-engine.xml

Now I have to find a proper place for it within the site. I think I´ll keep it hidden here for now; it goes against what I said before, but I´ll take it as a long-term experiment. Of course you can try my other cool swicki on synthesizers…

As always, any comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome. Thanks! 🙂

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