Yahoo, locked in a feature war with Google, rolled out a new service Thursday that it touted as the first from a major search engine to let people sift through Internet subscription sites from a single query box.
In our tests, the beta Yahoo Search Subscription service (search.yahoo.com/subscriptions) did what its name promised, searching for stories across multiple paid-access sites -- therefore freeing us from having to visit each of those sites individually to hunt for material on a particular topic. Yahoo indexes the contents of seven premium sites, including the Wall Street Journal Online, ConsumerReports.org, the Financial Times, and TheStreet.com.
But because you must have a paid subscription to any of those sites to read whatever articles a query locates, it's hard to imagine who is going to find this useful. While many people do pay for access to at least one of these sites, how many have subscriptions to more than one of them? And how many search for the same item across multiple such sites?
Yahoo said it will soon add more content providers, including the large libraries of LexisNexis, Factiva and Thomson Gale. People will be able to purchase access to individual articles through the Lexis-Nexis Ala Carte service, which might make the service helpful to folks who don't subscribe to any of the included sites.
Yahoo's current offering lets users choose and save which subscription Web sites they want to search. They can also have their regular Web searches sent through this database.
Showing results from subscription-only Web sites alongside those from free Web sites is something Microsoft executives have long talked about adding to their MSN Web service. But MSN has yet to offer that feature. Google doesn't have any equivalent to Yahoo's new feature, either.
Google Enhances Mobile Search
Google keeps trying to streamline searching on the go, though it remains mostly an elusive goal (thanks in part to the limitations of cell phones' screens and keyboards). The Mountain View, Calif., company introduced a trial version of its Mobile Web Search service last week that searches only among Web pages formatted in the latest standard for displaying data on cell phones, called XHTML.
To access Google's latest mobile Web service, visit its Google Mobile page on your cell phone and select "Mobile Web (Beta)" as the option for searching.
Groxis Finds New Ways to Do Business
The Web-search game consists of many more players than Google and Yahoo, of course. But lesser-known players can have a hard time getting going. Just ask Groxis, developer of an unusual visual search engine, Grokker, that generates visual maps of search results.
Groxis groups the related Web sites it finds into colorful circles representing related topics and categories. Users not only can browse the search result maps, clicking through to related Web sites, but also can edit, alter and save them, and e-mail them to others.
The San Francisco firm originally packaged this in a downloadable program it sold for $49. Last month, however, it began emphasizing a more conventional, browser-based version of this search tool, requiring no special download and no charge. This relies on a partnership with Yahoo, which provides the search data plotted out in Grokker's circular graphics and sells ads on Groxis's site.
This week, Groxis announced yet another venture, saying it would provide its search tool to Sun Microsystems. Sun's employees will be able to use Grokker searches to query and browse the company's own documents as well as various outside resources to which it subscribes.
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