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Try the new SNAP - Completely AJAX [PersonRank 10]

Tuesday, May 16, 2006
16 years ago5,946 views

you can just add the Search URL to go directly to the search term


you can save the attractive JPG thumbnail preview by save picture as

We'll call it the first Web 2.0 Search Engine

Milly [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

It uses the shabby old GoTo / Overture / Dogpile scam of misleadingly mixing paid adverts into the organic results, so let's not call it a search engine at all. It's probably too late to call it the first Web 2.0 Scam Engine, but it's surely one of them.

How do they try to spin that scuzzy trick? Not by explanation of the "Sponsored Result" tags on the results page itself, of course, nor is that phrase hyperlinked or tooltipped to an explanation.

Most (non-search-techie) people know the phrase from TV, where a program might be 'sponsored by', say, a chocolate bar. It's a weird spin even there, but at least it's obvious that the chocolate bar reference is an adjunct to the actual TV program. Here the advert *replaces* the 'program' (i.e. the numbered result which should be in that spot), and is misleadingly designed to look exactly like the organic results (bar the obscure strapline itself). At best they're infomercials, wrongly described as sponsorship.

But it's there, buried in the Help pages :-

"Q: Why do sponsored (paid) search results appear mixed in with organic (algorithmic) search results?

A: Another obvious difference of Snap from the rest of the herd is our simplification of search results by the creation of ONE search results list (paid listings are still labeled "sponsored"). At Snap we integrate both algorithmic and paid listings because we think both types of results can be relevant for a particular search. If you're looking to buy a laptop computer, then it’s highly likely that sponsored listings are going to be very relevant for your search. If you want to learn what’s in the Fifth Amendment of our Constitution, then it’s likely that organic listings are going to provide the best results. Our proprietary ranking algorithms sort both types of listings in the order most likely to achieve user satisfaction. How? By using a combination of analytical techniques that accurately relate the relevance of a number of factors including post-click behavior, conversion ratings, text analysis, link analysis and others. So while on the surface it might seem counter-intuitive or even a little deceptive to combine paid and organic listings, we think it turns out to be far better for both the user and, where there are paid listings, for the advertiser as well."

What a crock. "Simplification" indeed. "... or even a little deceptive ..." – you think?

Of course laptop vendors might be relevant in that example – but which ones? Those that have gained some 'authority' by PageRank or traffic or reputation or even (bought) ISP clickstream data (which informs Snap's organic results, apparently) or at least *something*? Or simply those who forked over the most cash for the keywords?

Let's try an example:

'Result' No.1 is (I've broken the URL):-

"1. Free Spyware ScanProfessional grade spyware removal. Scan your computer for free and remove spyware, adware, errors, pop-ups and other threats.
www .pchealthplan. com Sponsored Result"

Hmm, that site doesn't appear in the first 200 Google results.

And Symantec says :-

"PCHealthPlan is a security risk that may give exaggerated reports of threats on the computer. The program then prompts the user to purchase a registered version of the software in order to remove the reported threats."

SiteAdvisor says :-

"Feedback from credible users indicates this site engaged in one or more negative or undesired activities."

SpywareWarrior says :-

"false positives work as goad to purchase"

So, which of the "combination of analytical techniques that accurately relate the relevance of a number of factors" floated that badware pusher to the top of Snap's results? Payola, of course? How is that "far better for [...] the user"? How is that "the order most likely to achieve user satisfaction".

I wish search pundits would call a spade a spade. John Battelle is typically wishy-washy on the topic of Snap's payola links :-

"The Snap model incorporates paid inclusion and pay per action, and I think this may be where it falls down. While this is certainly an innovation in the affiliate/adsense spam market, it's also open to charges of blurring the lines, which was exactly the problem with Goto when it launched. We'll see".

How about you, Philip? Both you and John are linking yourselves with Snap, to an extent, with your FM adverts and your blog.snap posts :-

You didn't use your No. 11 (LOL :) to call them out about 'paid inclusion', I see (though *that* would have surprised them).

Do you think it sucks?

(Note: I do NOT believe that your FM financial connection has influenced your views, nor any expression of them, whatsoever. Nor John's views, for that matter, though he apparently doesn't think it sucks anyway).

or [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

"So while on the surface it might seem counter-intuitive or even a little deceptive to combine paid and organic listings, we think it turns out to be far better"

I'm surprised that line was in their FAQ – "even a little deceptive" WOW, they sure are honest.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Milly, Snap (through my blog ad network Federated Media) paid for a banner here which is then linked to an article at Snap I wrote as part of the ad campaign. Like I disclosed on top of the Snap ad it's an advertisement, and as I disclose in the beginning of the article linked from the ad, I was paid to write the Snap article, but I was free to write whatever I want – which is what I did. As the article was not a review of Snap, but simply my take on how they could best launch, I didn't approve or disapprove of Snap in any way (nor could I have, because I prepared the article on Saturday and the site was opened on Monday – I don't think a paid review of Snap on would be too relevant to users, either... as a consumer I don't look for reviews on the *tool creator* site). So my main launch idea for Snap or any other search engine was this: have a great product, the rest will follow. And yeah, the more you separate paid from organic links, the greater your product.

Milly [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

"[...] And yeah, the more you separate paid from organic links, the greater your product."

That's it? Commingled paid and organic links being just another point along a continuum? No important line is being crossed? To invert an English phrase, that seems me to be praising with faint damnation. I'm very surprised.

I think it unequivocally sucks, and clearly crosses a very important line. I think commingled paid and organic links are knowingly deceitful, and (at least in the Google-devalued sense of the word), evil.

Perhaps it's me who's out of line on this topic.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

I hear your thoughts Milly and I appreciate your feedback. Maybe you can tell the Snap founders your opinion? Last time people complained about something, they actually changed it [1]. While I do believe separation of ads and content is a line along a continuum, I also agree there's a point you can cross where it turns into clear deceptiveness, which can become a strong argument against using a search engine in the first place.

I personally do not intend to review Snap at this time because I don't want to run an ad campaign and then also start to blog about the same thing... to me that gets too complicated in terms of separating ads and content myself. If there is an important breaking Snap news I consider irresistible then I will provide the news along with the disclosure that I've been running a campaign before.

[1] [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

The sponsor links are defined as such in an easy to read manner – and they are NOT on top of the organics.

So. in essence, SNAP has made a compromise –

The AJAX style is really fun to use – but, a better idea would be to partner with Google – and add the pageranks to the serps

or partner with Yahoo and add the Yahoo Mindset to the SERPS

or be a Google – Yahoo Metasearch with BOTH features

Brinke Guthrie [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago # Didn't it used to be owned by NBC? I thought the founder of CNET, Halsey Minor, had something to do with Snap at first- I heard of it while I was there. (i think.)

Milly [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

I suppose I could tell Snap, but Bill Gross has been married to 'paid inclusion/placement'[1] since (at least); has made squillions of dollars from it[2]; and must have heard all the arguments many, many times. I suspect the only thing which might dissuade a startup from using them is if enough key influencers of 'power searchers'[3], such as you and John Battelle and others[4], spoke up against them.

Philipp, of course I respect your right to comment, or not comment, on anything you wish, howsoever you wish. But not reviewing Snap, and studiously avoiding polemic comment, are two different things. It sure *sounds* as if you are chilling yourself, here. You agree there's "a point you can cross where it turns into clear deceptiveness", but you won't say whether or not you think Snap's implementation crosses that line? Yikes :(

How about if I invite you to comment in the abstract? If a search engine mixes 'paid inclusion/placement' and organic results; makes them identical in format/display and sharing the same numbered ranking; uses only "Sponsored Result" as differentiation, and doesn't surface any (link to, or) explanation of that ambiguous phrase anywhere on the SERPs ... then does that cross the line? Does it suck? Should it be more than dissuasive to users: should it also warrant condemnation from search pundits? What if Google did it?

Feel free to decline the invite, if you like – I'm not here to bust your chops ;)


[2] became Overture, and was sold to Yahoo for $1.63bn



Milly [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

BTW, re your link to Boing Boing's[1] complaint, it seems it wasn't entirely successful. Certainly, most of that clause – the wording/format of links, mainly – got scrapped, hence this is a *partial* quote, but ...

Cory Doctorow of BB :-

"I mean, imagine if [...] you couldn't scrape, frame or otherwise munge Google results – kee-rist, it'd be a frigging apocalype."

Snap's linking clause today[2]:-

"You agree that you will not link to the Site using any HTML techniques that display the Site within a frame, partial window, popup, pop-under, or any other non-standard linking method.

You agree to not (i) use any method to intercept or expropriate any system data or information from the Site without the express written permission of Perfect Market; or (ii) use any robot, spider, other automatic device, or manual process to crawl, index, or copy the Site web pages or the content contained herein without the prior expressed written permission of Perfect Market."

I guess that still forbids 'scraping, framing or otherwise munging the results' ;). But that is entirely BTW, and I doubt Google's terms would actually meet Cory's standards, either.

[1] Thanks for the vote of confidence, but, as Seth F. might say, me and BB are "people" with differing degrees of influence ;)


Milly [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Brinke, yes I think NBC bought all or most of it from CNET. I suspect Perfect Market Technologies, Inc (Bill Gross + VC) mainly bought the name and domain.*/

Milly [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

SEW, what do mean by "The sponsor links [...] are NOT on top of the organics"?

If you do the example search I mentioned: , the first two numbered 'results' are 'paid inclusion/placement' links.

Other searches will bring differently ordered results, of course, depending partly on how much payola has been coughed up.

Try , again the first two so-called results are 'paid inclusion/placement' links. The first is to an affiliated shopping site! The second to, well, rejoin the URL and see if *you* think it's a quality result : http://www. computerspeedhelp .com/ :(

As for "The sponsor links are defined as such in an easy to read manner", well sure, to you and me and people here. But as research repeatedly shows (see my links above), not to average surfers, who are being deliberately hoodwinked. "Sponsored Result" is an ambiguous phrase (to search non-aficionados); not hyperlinked, tooltipped or otherwise explained (except in pages people have to hunt out deeper in the site); and attached to adverts evidently designed to mimic real results in every other way.

It's a deliberate con trick, and one the search industry ought be ashamed of, and shun. I believe, anyway.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Milly says
> How about if I invite you to comment in the abstract? If
> a search engine mixes 'paid inclusion/placement' and
> organic results; makes them identical in format/display
> and sharing the same numbered ranking; uses only "Sponsored
> Result" as differentiation, and doesn't surface any (link to, or)
> explanation of that ambiguous phrase anywhere on the SERPs ...
> then does that cross the line? Does it suck? Should it be
> more than dissuasive to users: should it also warrant condemnation
> from search pundits? What if Google did it?

I'd stop using Google, look for alternatives, and escalate this in my blog. Something along the lines. That being said, Google in the past did make their ad results much more resemble their organic results: they got rid of a distinctive background color on the right side and also mirrored the organic results font size. And in their official AdSense blog, they keep suggesting to webmasters that they should make ads look more like content to increase income. Which is what many webmasters do, as we all know. And when you click on "Sponsored Link" on a Google result, you will also not get to an explanation of what that is, but you will be taken to the ad target page.

Now, if you are asking for my opinion on Snap specifically: yes, I think they're mixing organic results and ads too much; their distinction through colors, positioning and especially the numbering is poor. I don't consider this frontpage-newsworthy yet – unless Google, Yahoo or MSN are doing it, or unless Snap grows to become one of the big ones – but if this escalates in the forum then I will follow-up on the frontpage, because I want the frontpage to reflect important discussions here. I get the feeling the ad would have triggered that blog post in a kind of three degrees of separation way, but maybe I have to live with that happening.

Milly [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

I agree with you about Google's own blurring of the lines on the SERPs, and lack of immediate or linked explanation or glossary. Presumably they believe that the layout separation is sufficient for clarity. It isn't, in my view, but at least it's in that context of unsubstituted results.

Ironically, I responded to's original post without knowing about your Snap ads at all – I was just intending to reply about Snap, and ad ethics. I only saw your Snap ads because I was going to make exactly your discomfiting point about AdSense etc, and thought I'd see how your ads were formatted by temporarily bypassing my ad-blocker. (My use of an ad-blocker raises yet another ethical dilemma, of course).

As for your blogging dilemma, re running an ad campaign and then also blogging about the same thing, that's very tricky. Your partial self-chilling solution is one option. What else could you do? Not run ads for things so directly on-topic for your blog? Easier said than done, I imagine. Ignore the ads, and feel *wholly* free to praise or bite or talk about the hand that's feeding you (with disclosure), if it interests you, trusting your good reputation and your readers to sort the ad from the content?

My two cents would be for that last one, rather than the partial self-chilling stance. You do have such a reputation, and readers can't easily grok what you're *not* blogging about.

As for topic escalation, it doesn't look likely from the number of other contributors in this thread, so far. I think search payola an important topic, but Snap isn't, yet. Maybe I'll start a search payola thread ;)

(Snap completely freezes Opera 9 here, every time, BTW).

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Milly, I was hoping to avoid the Heisenberg phenomenon and tried to be the same blogger regarding Snap I would be without the ad campaign, and this is easier said than done because for starters, I heard about the Snap launch through the ad campaign, which on Monday meant I had to make a decision on "whether or not a Philipp without a Snap campaign would have heard about this news, and digested it to be newsworthy". I saw it on Search Engine Watch, but I often tend to ignore search engine launches simply because there are too many "Google killers" in the news. I was not trying to be self-chilled but I was hoping to avoid to get into a discussion of Snap *just due to my ads*, because than the ads would skew the content. If I failed trying to stay the same than this is an important lesson for me and actually, I decided for myself to not accept another ad campaign which also includes me writing an opinion piece somewhere else. I don't think it's bad – I got the chance to write my sincere thoughts, just like I'm writing here – but it's definitely too confusing for me at this time.

Anyway, I posted about this on the frontpage. Like I said, I appreciate your opinion here, now and in the future.

Milly [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Thanks, Philipp. With such transparency, thoughtfulness and open-mindedness, I'm sure these little wrinkles will always get ironed out as they arise, inevitably, from time to time. Anyway, enough navel-gazing for now, that's another bad habit for bloggers ;)

As for "I think *he’s* right", well ...

No problem, though :) [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

In snaps favor, they are using standards about the placement of the sponsor links – THEY ARE NOT AUTOMATICALLY placed above the SERPs.

If the standard is MONEY – they are showing significant reserve...

It IS important that they DO make money for their investors. This innovative search model is not only processor consuming but bandwidth consuming for SNAP.

This AJAX technology will evolve to add a new dimension to search, that will make the experience unlike anything we are experiencing now., especially as processing power increases.

Along with – can anyone imagine a super search engine encompassing all the following – AS ONE SEARCH ENGINE

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

16 years ago #

Whoops. Corrected "he" to "she".

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