Using people – not software – to find Dulcinea…or anything else

In a Web Search industry where algorithms spit out results in split seconds, automation is king, and seems to have completely edged out the human factor.

But the folk at findingDulcinea.com will tell you differently.

This New York-based firm relies on human judgment, rather than software, to sift through tons of information on the Web and provide very focused Search results.

While to some this technique may seem hugely archaic, the people at findingDulcinea.com say the results are phenomenal.

And they attribute this to a very targeted approach.

“Google provides you with five billion sites; we only choose the 20,000 that matter,” said Mark Moran, CEO and founder of findingDulcinea.com.

Moran says he became fascinated with Internet Search during his earlier career as a lawyer.

Partners in the firm often turned to him for research assistance because they found it hard to wade through the avalanche of information that confronted them each time they typed out queries.

Moran said he got so good at Search that he, family members and some friends decided to set up their own Internet Search company.

As the story goes, Moran’s father loves Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and had always asked, to no avail, that his children name a daughter after Dulcinea – the love interest of the novel’s hero.

Naming his first company Dulcinea was as far as Moran would go.

The nine-month-old firm depends on a full-time staff of about 30 writers and editors, plus 25 freelance contributors and subject matter experts to seek out “refutable” Web sites on a wide variety of topics.

A query on the Beijing Olympics in a mainstream search engine is likely to generate very diverse results. These could range from medal statistics, to the event’s official Web site, sites of media outfits covering the game, and perhaps articles and blog posts on the topic –plus a host of video’s images and maps.

Google will probably come up with upwards of 100 pages on the topic – with each page featuring around 10 entries.

The search engine’s special software vets information based on several parameters.

These include: relevance to the Search words, diverse coding and tagging parameters and the number and “quality” of links to the content. The “most popular articles” would appear on the top 10 position of the first page.

But keying in the same query in findingDulcinea.com is likely to bring up far fewer results.

They will include material from sites chosen and ranked by the company’s writers, editors and researchers based on a set of Web search ground rules developed by Moran and his staff.

They look out for things such as: source of the material, the site’s intent, affiliations, the sponsors’ background, and the author’s level of expertise on that particular topic.

Entries will have introductions and summaries written by staff members.

Often results are presented much like entries in the old-style hardbound encyclopedias – starting with a definition of the word, a brief introduction, and then breaking off into chapters or sections.

Entries are not exhaustive but have links that lead to sites that findingDuclinea researchers believe would provide relevant, reliable and useful information to the searcher.

The site offers three sections: Web Guides, which provides Search tips and selected links to 16 major areas; Beyond the Headlines, a historical and contextual look at top news stories; and Netcetera, which features magazine-style articles on personalities and intriguing events on the Web.

Needless to say findingDulcinea.com’s labour-intensive methods make for a relatively low output. To date, the site has around 500 “Web guides”, and staff members crank out the content at a rate of 25 guides a month.

The site which has attracted around 500,000 users, appeals to students, researchers and teachers, Moran said.

A surfer also can’t be blamed for finding the experience akin to facing a librarian because that is how Moran envisions a Web search should be. “We’re the librarians of the Internet,” he says.

“We don’t give you the answers – we tell you where to find the right information.”

Other companies that find Google’s keyword search-based system not applicable to their operations and have turned to semantic search methods that concentrate on concept related words.

The idea of people-powered search engines is not new. Various search companies employ their own flavours of the method.

For example, several years ago About.com started a site that features subjects moderated by human guides. HowStuffWorks.com substitutes pages of Search results with their own hand-picked recommendations.

 

If there are two things wrong with the prevalent Web Search regime, Moran says, it’s that current systems bring back too much information – very little of which is of any use to the searcher.

Moran points to Harris Interactive study commissioned by Yahoo, which found 85 per cent of search engine users don’t find what they are looking for on their first try.

“I’ve seen professionals and experts in their fields putting in 10 to 15 queries and still not getting the right answers.”

This is mainly because search engines such as Google typically display results based on how often a site gets linked to by other sites rather than how relevant it is to the original search query, Moran said.
“It’s become a popularity contest. The most popular item gets the top five position on page one.”

This in turn, conditions people to focus mainly on the first page of the results and the top five entries on that page.

“If the gem you’re looking for happens to be in page 13 because its author just didn’t know enough SEO (search engine optimization) techniques, tough luck for you.”

But smart operators can “game the system” by making articles more attractive to a search engine’s Web crawler.

In a recent case of so-called “Google bombing” a political blogger enlisted the aid of fellow partisans to boost the search engine’s rankings of nine news stories featuring Republican U.S. presidential candidate John McCain.

No one really knows the intricacies of Google’s rarefied search algorithms, but savvy authors and Web masters have learned that certain things help – such as using search engine-friendly keywords, adding images and more.

One Montreal-based SEO expert says – when used properly – the algorithms system can “level the playing field.”

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a multi-million dollar company or a mom and pop operation. Search engines such as Google pick out the most active sites offering the freshest most appealing content,” says Silvo Frank, CEO of SEO Internet Marketing Inc. in Montreal.

SEO Internet helps organizations develop Web site campaigns designed to generate maximum profile and referrals from the likes of Google, MSM, Yahoo, Ask.com and AskJeeves.

Various surveys place Google’s hold on the Search market anywhere between 77 to 80 per cent.  

Yes, it is possible for a site providing the most comprehensive and useful information on a certain topic to be buried in the Internet’s netherworld, Frank says.

But ultimately, if an author has something to say the onus is often on the writer to make every effort to be read.

On the Web, this means playing to the algorithms that govern the Web crawlers of the search engines, according to Frank.

Authors and optimization experts look for content match-up with search-popular keywords, the actual placement of the content, coding, tagging and titling techniques, and of course linking.

“Establishing the right links can be very tricky. But essentially it’s about how many other Web sites in the world are linking to your site,” Frank said.

He admitted that in the past rankings have been abused by other sites and there were instances where Search engines could be bought. “This was one reason why Yahoo – which was on top of the game at that time – tumbled.” Frank said Yahoo stopped the practice of selling rankings some two years ago.

Frank says a major challenge of an operation such as findingDulcinea.com is to generate enough income to sustain its efforts and to be able to keep up with the demand for up-to-date search results.

“This very manual process will eventually become very cumbersome and too expensive to sustain. It all boils down to the people behind it and their resolve to stick with their original intent,” he said.

But despite his company’s name, Moran says he is determined that his vision doesn’t end up a Quixotic quest.

Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+