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Website Discovery Engines and the Rise of Big Wave Internet Surfing


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Is your experience surfing the internet becoming like your experience with cable or satellite TV (you have over 200 cable or satellite channels and can't find anything to watch)?  Is it beginning to feel like there's nowhere left to surf on the internet because you've seen it all? 

Maybe you need a better way to discover new webpages and ideally entire websites. You can do that with website discovery engines, which provide a "big wave internet surfing" experience.  So what exactly is big wave internet surfing?

First consider ordinary internet surfing, which emerged when the internet first became widely accessible to the public.  A pretty rudimentary and tedious process, ordinary internet surfing involves typing a keyword into a search engine, running through a few pages of search results (assuming you go past the first page), clicking on a link, visiting a website, clicking on a few more links at the website, and then returning to the search engine to repeat the process.

Next consider big wave ocean surfing. To surf the monster ocean waves that are moving extremely fast and are at least 20 feet high, ocean surfers sometimes rely on fellow surfers on jet skis to pull them onto those more powerful waves for faster and more exhilarating rides.

Website discovery engines make big wave internet surfing possible.  Website discovery engines are kind of like fellow surfers on jet skis. They assist internet surfers by helping them catch digital waves that they otherwise might not have been able to catch on their own.

While some internet surfers might not draw a distinction, website discovery engines can be distinguished from content discovery engines. The former help internet surfers discover new webpages and websites whereas the latter help them discover new, recently-published "content" like articles, blog posts, photos, and videos.  This distinction is not mandatory, however, and both kinds of engines can be considered forms of big wave internet surfing.

Though all website discovery engines help internet surfers discover new webpages and websites, some do it in different ways than others.  In other words, they all have different engine designs.  There are 3 main engine designs currently in use.

Arguably the most fun is the random display engine.  Pioneered by StumbleUpon, the most popular and widely-acclaimed website discovery engine, the random display engine randomly displays a webpage at the push of a button.  However, the displayed webpage can't be too random otherwise an internet surfer might quickly lose interest.  To help insure that displayed webpages are more likely of interest to an internet surfer, random display engines usually allow him or her to create a user profile and reveal their interests.  Also, they usually have the option to randomly display webpages by category.  Finally, they usually offer the option to "like" or "dislike" a displayed webpage, which helps the engine to refine the kinds of webpages an internet surfer is shown.  In addition to StumbleUpon, another good random display website discovery engine is SpinSnap.

A second engine design in wide use is the similarity search design.  This kind of engine design works best for experienced internet surfers who already have a number of favorite websites.  It features an entry box in which an internet surfer can either type keywords or a familiar web address, though it is usually better to type in an address.  The engines will then return a search results page listing a number of similar websites.  The search results page is itself the result of sophisticated similarity algorithms used by the engines.  Some of the better website discovery engines based on the similarity search design include SimilarSites, Similicio, moreofit, PagesLike, and Top20Sites.  Of course, Google should also be mentioned since they have a similarity search feature embedded in their search results page (click on the upside down green arrow next to the URL of a search result and in many cases there is a text link for "Similar" webpages.)

The third and final main engine design is the original design of website discovery engines, the website directory.  Website directories are basically the Yellow Pages of the internet, dividing websites into categories and providing links to those websites.  For the most part, website directories went out of style because internet surfers tended to tire rather quickly of them as their eyes glazed over from looking at a bland page full of text links.  But they're still in use, and some have enjoyed a renaissance thanks to a focus on more appealing site designs.  The standard bearer of website directories is still BestoftheWeb, though an upstart with a fresh take is AllMyFaves.

Whatever website discovery engine an internet surfer chooses to use, hopefully every day the surf's up, in a big way!  For a directory of website discovery engines, including many not mentioned here, check out the  website discovery engine directory compiled by us.

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