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Mobile App Search: So Broken AltaVista Could Do It 86

Posted by Soulskill
from the optimization-battling-objectivity dept.
waderoush writes "First-generation search engines such as AltaVista — built when the Web had only a few hundred thousand sites — produced notoriously goofy and spam-prone results. Well, when you search the Android Market for 'restaurant guide' and the top result is the U.S. Army Survival Guide, it begins to seem like we haven't come very far. San Francisco-based Chomp is one of the companies trying to fix mobile app search and discovery by leapfrogging Apple, Google, and the other app store providers. Founder and CEO Ben Keighran, creator of the once-hugely-popular Bluepulse text messaging system for Java phones, says the company plumbs the app stores, the Web, Twitter, and other sources to distill accurate keywords ('appwords') for each app. The top apps at Chomp for the search terms 'restaurant guide': Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Zagat, just as you'd expect."
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Mobile App Search: So Broken AltaVista Could Do It

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  • So an engine called chomp finds restaurants. Paint me surprised :)

  • produced notoriously goofy and spam-prone results.

    So that's who Google has between copying lately with their own spam-filled results.

  • by bananaquackmoo (1204116) on Friday November 04, 2011 @02:04PM (#37950176)
    I've been wondering for a while about how Google's market search is so terrible. They're supposed to know how to do search, right?
    • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Friday November 04, 2011 @03:08PM (#37950948) Journal

      Older web developers will remember meta tags for keywords and site description... use them anymore? Nah, they were from a more innocent age, were it was expected that site owners would limit the keywords and description to accurately describe their site so it would only be found by those really intending to find it.

      Ah... happy days.

      Google really doesn't have that much to search for in an app submission. They rely pretty much on app owner submitted information. Gosh, we better hope they file accurate keywords and description so only people really intending to find that app will find it... and pigs will fly.

      The various app markets are rife with spammers and husslers trying to sell apps no-one needs at outragous prices. It would like trying to index that co.cc domain THAT google STOPPED indexing because it became an impossible job.

      But they can't stop indexing their own site.

      Their famous fix was to not just look at a site but see how it was linked to. That got rid of the meta tag spam BUT spammers worked around it and with apps, there is no in build linking (remember, the web is all about linking).

      • by aix tom (902140)

        Well. There goes one of the reasons you would like to have an App store.

        From a normal "store" I would expect when something is sold there that the store owner actually took a look at the thing that is up for sale, and classified it, and put it in the according section with the according keywords.

        Any Linux Distro is able to do that with the software that is in their package management. GitHub and Sourceforge are able to do it for the software in their repositories. Mozilla is able to do it for the Firefox ex

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        When you can't automate something, do it with human power. I don't see why Google doesn't hire a dozen or so college-age kids to do basic data entry on this sort of thing. I'm sure they know how important the power of an accurate search is.

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      The problem with search is people are attempt to do very different searches all with the same search application. Basically they are expecting the application to guess the nature of the search, whether it be general information, business location, product, local, regional or global. Want good search results you have to be really skilled at searching, surely everyone has not missed the typical web cartoon of the skilled user watching a noob every so painfully slowly going through a web search spending half

  • Right, but I think the motivation here is greatly exaggerated. The search is only "broken" (if you can call it that) when doing search from the phone. Fire up the android market website and it gets much better. I recall reading somewhere that the market now uses google's search for providing search results, maybe someone can confirm (or refute) this.

    So what will happen to all those companies if google flips a switch tomorrow and all phones provide better search results?
    Also, keep in mind that there are not

    • by fafaforza (248976)

      > So what will happen to all those companies if google flips a switch tomorrow and all phones provide better search results?

      They would have long sold out to someone and the founders moved on to something else.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Bullshit, search on the web Android Market works exactly the same as the search on the phone. Search restaurant guide on the web market, your top result is the US Army Survival Guide. And the relatively small search index makes it less excusable what a piss poor job Google does on Android Market search. And no, I'm not an Apple fanboy, I own a Droid2 and will probably upgrade to the Droid RAZR, I have no interest in the iPhone. I'm just fed up with how painful it is to find something on the Android Mark

      • by Synerg1y (2169962)

        Amazingly enough you can "google" off your pc find the app name and then enter it EXACTLY into the search engine on your phone and walla. I am totally behind this is not how it should be at all, but is it worth bitching about? No.

        Might help keep the nasty apps off your phone too as there's user reviews and such out there.

  • First-generation search engines such as AltaVista â" built when the Web had only a few hundred thousand sites â" produced notoriously goofy and spam-prone results. Well, when you search the Android Market for 'restaurant guide' and the top result is the U.S. Army Survival Guide, it begins to seem like we haven't come very far.

    Why would one expect anything different in a civilization where knowledge (like search engine algorithms) is legally locked away indefinitely from the rest of mankind?

  • That's all I need on my N900

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by SharkLaser (2495316)
      apt and yum are horrible for searching if you don't know the name. And usually Linux programs have horrible names that tell nothing about the program. So, in the end you're going to be Binging it anyway.
      • by dorre (1731288)

        Binging it anyway.

        First time I heard Bing used as a verb. This surely must be a great moment for Microsoft!

      • by Korin43 (881732)

        That's why you don't just search the name.

        [brendan@computer ~]$ pacman -Ss web browser
        extra/arora 0.11.0-2 [0.69 MB]
        A cross platform web browser built using Qt and WebKit
        extra/epiphany 3.2.1-1 [3.44 MB] (gnome)
        A GNOME web browser based on the WebKit rendering engine.
        extra/epiphany-extensions 3.2.0-1 [0.84 MB]
        Various extentions for the Epiphany web browser
        extra/firefox 7.0.1-1 [11.45 MB]
        Standalone web browser from mozilla.org ... etc

        • by nabsltd (1313397)

          Same for yum:

          $yum search web browser
          dillo.i686 : Very small and fast GUI web browser
          epiphany.i686 : Web browser for GNOME
          firefox.i686 : Mozilla Firefox Web browser
          seamonkey.i686 : Web browser, e-mail, news, IRC client, HTML editor
          arora.i686 : A cross platform web browser
          elinks.i686 : A text-mode Web browser

      • "Binging it?" Do add yourself to your list of shills. I'm sure you're already on GameBoyRMH's list...

        App search is one of the long list of things that, whilst not perfect on the N900, is a hell of a lot better than anything Android, Apple or Microsoft have offered so far.
      • So, in the end you're going to be Binging it anyway.

        If you keep on binging yourself, you'll go blind. You need to get a GF...

  • Revisionist History (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 04, 2011 @02:14PM (#37950298)

    AltaVista, from 1995 to late 1998, provided perfectly acceptable search results that you would be unlikely to find substantially different than the quality of Google's results today. While the speed of the search was slower than Google's today, and it lacked the contextual searching that Google has integrated in the last several years (UPS tracking numbers, weather, calculator, Google Shopping, etc.) results could hardly have been described as goofy or spam-prone. AltaVista also provided a number of advanced search options (such as the NEAR boolean) that it took Google a decade to catch up with.

    That all went away when AltaVista was sold to CMGI, and the quality of search degraded radically. AltaVista became a shadow of its former, Google-like self. While AltaVista at any time in the aughts was a laughable alternative to Google, the first few years of AltaVista - in terms of layout and quality of search - were in many ways more Googly than Google, and was clearly the service that Google was aspiring to be when they started.

    • by omnichad (1198475)

      That may just be a result of other search engines being more popular among non-geeks that are also easier to game.

    • by Daetrin (576516)
      There was an overlapping window when i would use Google for most searches, but switch back to Alta Vista whenever i wanted to be able to search for an exact word/phrase including punctuation. Eventually Alta Vista dropped the ability to handle punctuation (maybe at the time of the CMGI sale? I dunno) and i pretty much stopped using Alta Vista from that point on.
    • Google makes a good browser home page because it loads quickly and isn't distracting (unlike Yahoo, for example). I've never found the results to be any more useful than the next search engine.
      • by gl4ss (559668)

        the real reason for me at least to start using google was that every other search engine turned in to a FUCKING PORTAL.

        which is what some guys at google probably want to do. they were hired to do it, so they try to push the agenda.

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        About:blank makes an even better home page. Provided you have a search bar on your browse, as I think they all do now, there's no reason to have any page load up by default.
    • by aix tom (902140)

      One feature from that old AltaVista I still miss today:

      The search for two or more words that were NEAR another (inside 10 or 20 words of each other if I remember correctly).

      For those times you know 2-3 words of a phrase/product/code fragment etc... but don't know the exact phrase.

  • http://chompapps.com/ [chompapps.com] has been slashdotted. Come back tomorrow.

  • I give this search engine two thumbs up. I tried it for searches which included "puzzle games", "bird games", "anger games", and "pig revenge game". The later searches target the actual title of the games more than the "niche categories" but nonetheless produced interesting results. Lo and behold - there are no less than 3 Angry Birds knockoff games where (get this) the Pigs take revenge against the Birds.

    This seems much more useful than searching Google for "Best Android Puzzle Games" because those re

  • I searched for tablet news in the Android category. Neither pulse or newsr are on the first page of results, but the Google reader app which is a joke on the tablet is the second result. Maybe they should have categories for tablet apps and phone apps. It's not like google search is much better, because the results for "android tablet news app" just brings links to a bunch of top 10 stories and no links to individual apps. Google app market online has a pretty good result though for "tablet news."

  • Why is Altavista mentioned in the title and the summary when this slashvertisement has nothing to do with them?
    • by X0563511 (793323)

      Because, back when the web was New, AtlaVista was one of the few search engines around and it was pretty bad at it's job.

      This is a play on the whole "so easy even a caveman could do it!" thing.

  • Page shows me a bunch of irrelevant news pages. Guess what the top story is? [xconomy.com]. Hmm.
  • by pseudorand (603231) on Friday November 04, 2011 @02:30PM (#37950524)

    Stop hatin' all you haters! I HAVE the US Army Survival Guide app and it's the best. Talks all about how to watch the locals to see what's good to eat. Way more accurate that Zagats. Sounds to me like Google's app search is working just fine.

    • by X0563511 (793323)

      I do find it hilarious* they have a whole app for this publicly available ebook [survivalebooks.com].

      * By hilarious, I mean it makes me want to hurt people and/or burn things (how appropriate!)

    • by optimism (2183618)

      I HAVE the US Army Survival Guide app and it's the best.

      LOL. "Army" and "Survival" are generally contradictory terms.

      The British SAS survival guide is pretty damn good. So good, in fact, that the US Navy SEALs cribbed it. And you can probably find a copy in your local library. :)

  • How good does Handango [handango.com] work? I haven't paid much attention but they've been doing an "app store" longer than Apple.
  • "The top apps at Chomp for the search terms 'restaurant guide': Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Zagat, just as you'd expect."

    I think you're confusing what we hope for with what we expect. Those are what we hope for, but the army survival guide really is what we expect from a search.

  • King of Search (Score:5, Informative)

    by sexconker (1179573) on Friday November 04, 2011 @02:36PM (#37950608)

    Google is the king of search, and Android can't search for files by filename.
    If you have a ringtone named "smw.mp3" on your phone, you can't find it by searching for Mario.mp3.
    You can't find it by searching for smw
    You can't find it by searching for *.mp3.

    You can find it by searching for certain metadata (ID3 tags in this case).
    "Super Mario World" might return a hit. "Koji Kondo" might return a hit.

    If you want to search for files by something as bizarre as their fucking file name, you have to use a 3rd party application, or just mount the fucking SD card in your computer.

    Of course, MS isn't much better with Windows Vista and 7 - shit takes ages to search non-indexed locations even if you have a pair of SSDs in RAID 0 and specifically use the file: filter to search for a specific file name only. And it'll take about 8 years if you're searching a network location.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      Google is the king of search, and Android can't search for files by filename.

      I actually can't really blame them for this, or Apple for that matter. Android is not geared towards traditional use of a filesystem. It is more similar to Apple's use in their apps in which the user doesn't actually see the filesystem. And rightfully so, the myriad of ignorant masses who've never used linux are typically bamboozeled by the directory structure.

      This has lead to a general clusterfuck of data on the sdcard of Android devices. Apps typically make a folder and dump their crap in there and hope f

      • The metadata system is effectively a directory structure where the names correspond to the different fields. They compensate for this rigidity with playlists, but that isn't quite enough sometimes.

        The big problem with this system is that you don't always have ID3 info. The non-technical user lacks the ability to modify their ID3 tags, or has them set incorrectly by an automated mechanism which misidentifies the piece. This is to say nothing of unusual formats which can be played via an addin, but don't get

        • by thegarbz (1787294)

          It's not forced, it's just the default presentation, and computer operating systems are heading the exact same way.

          Windows XP (or earlier?) with the hiding of file extensions. Windows Vista with the introduction of User Libraries as a storage system for user data. Windows Media Player 9, iTunes, and many similar media players all scan your drives for music and then add them to their own library meaning you don't typically go back to your file system to play stuff. We're in a metadata world now. I don't thin

          • by rdnetto (955205)

            I don't think you can legitimately download music anywhere without correct metadata applied. Even when you rip CDs most programs auto magically look up the CDDB database for the tags.

            It's not so much an issue with downloaded music as with ripped music, which is the case for more obscure stuff. The CDDB database lookup was the issue I referred to when I noted that it doesn't always get it right. Also, let's not forget that the vast majority of music in existence is old music, or that FLAC is the most popular lossless format.

            There's also a problem with tags which use non-latin alphabets, like j-pop. The right tags for those consist entirely of characters impossible or extremely difficult

  • FTA sounds like a default OR search, which gives you morehits with more search terms. Set the default to AND and much of the noise can be avoided.
    • by 16384 (21672)
      Google used to be an AND sort of search engine, but nowadays I find myself adding " " and + signs to get what I want...
      • by nick357 (108909)

        + doesn't work with google any more. The worlds gone to hell in a handcart.

        • by gl4ss (559668)

          for all that google has on personalisation.. they still don't have the one killer feature: a global banlist of words you could set which would score the results down if the words appeared.

          why is it useful? you can weed out an entire linkfarm by some single guy by just removing links that have his affiliate links.

          • by Paul1969 (1976328)

            Plus you can rid yourself forever of any site that mentions Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan. This one single act has been shown to increase IQ by 20%.

  • It was pretty awesome until Yahoo bought it. Also babelfish.

    • by Cochonou (576531)
      I don't remember that the Altavista of its time being more prone to return "spam" results than the Google of nowadays (crawling a much bigger web).
  • I was looking at the wikipedia page for web search engine [wikipedia.org] and looking at the timeline along the right; i didnt recognize a single one on there after 1999.

    We can start measuring internet time in Before Google and After Google i think.

    • I remember reading about a episode of The OC where they actually used A9.com as a verb ("I'll a9.com it" or some similar nonsense), in response to Google getting verb'ed. Even reading about it made me cringe at how pathetic the attempt was, and frankly "I'll Bing it" isn't far behind.

    • I was looking at the wikipedia page for web search engine [wikipedia.org] and looking at the timeline along the right; i didnt recognize a single one on there after 1999.

      We can start measuring internet time in Before Google and After Google i think.

      That must be down to MS's bad marketing, if you didn't recognize Bing....

  • ... with their annoying auto complete feature. Start typing something into the search box and it grabs the first few letters, finds something in its paid ad words database (no doubt) and pastes it in over what I was typing. If I'm in a hurry, I get something completely unrelated to what I wanted.

    It makes me want to turn off JavaScript.

  • You just hat to do logical expression search. Bit it had things work well that Google does not have, for example the "near" keyword.

  • San Francisco-based Chomp is one of the companies trying to fix mobile app search and discovery by leapfrogging Apple, Google, and the other app store providers. Founder and CEO Ben Keighran, creator of the once-hugely-popular Bluepulse text messaging system for Java phones, says the company plumbs the app stores, the Web, Twitter, and other sources to distill accurate keywords ('appwords') for each app. The top apps at Chomp for the search terms 'restaurant guide': Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Zagat, just as you'd expect."

    so ... /. is free advertising for startups now? anyone excited to hear the Ben Keighran is the author of text messaging system for java phones? are we impressed?

    if they can fool anyone into funding them, good for them. they are providing a service that you have to think google can and will solve in milliseconds.

  • Honestly, we're going backwards insofar as searching goes. For god's fucking sake, almost 15 years ago, we could do things like proximity searches (only count matches if the words are within N words of each other) and brute-force exact matches of things that would otherwise be stopwords (you know, sequences of words that are individually meaningless and background noise, but refer to something interesting when taken as an exact literal string that has to match verbatim).

    My first memory of Google was disbeli

  • Is this like how searching for Macaroni Grill in Abilene, TX brings up a single Macaroni Grill in Seatle, WA on my iPhone? I know there are at least 2 that are within 200 miles but it insists on showing me the one in Northern Seatle, 2000 miles away!

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