Ice Rocket

Type of engine: Tabs for news, blogs, phone pics, images, and personals.
Relevancy of results: Web results come from Alexa, so I will save that review for another time. Other results, like news and image search, comes from other sources.
Features and functionality: Average. Pretty straightforward.
Quality of help and "about us" pages: Needs Improvement.
There really are no help or about us pages, but that is supposed to be remedied. As Blake Rhodes stated in his Search Lounge interview, "Yes we will have help pages in all sections soon. "
Business model: Sponsored listings. Though they only show one paid listing per query which really helps with their perceived relevance.

Icerocket is a new search engine from Dallas, Texas that has the unique goal of being responsive to users. Blake Rhodes, the CEO, maintains a useful blog about the engine and to understand his philosophy about responsiveness this is a good post to read:
He writes, "When people write me with suggestions, what do I do? I LISTEN to them!! Without our users, we are nothing. As you can see, we have made several changes to the site based on the emails we have received." For more information about Icerocket, be sure to check out the Search Lounge interview, with Blake. Icerocket also differentiates itself by promoting two tabs that I haven’t seen at other engines: Phone Pics and Find a Friend. You be the judge if those are useful options or not.
And I should mention that Mark Cuban, the tech entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is an investor. If nothing else, that fact helps to bring some extra attention to the company.

There are search tabs for:
Web – searches Blake stated in our interview, "We actually don’t pull Alexa’s results, just the thumbnail images and the traffic numbers. We crawl and index a lot of it ourselves". I have to admit that I can hardly tell the difference. For most of the queries I tried the results seemed to be exactly the same on Alexa and Icerocket. However, for the query Elizabeth Edwards breast cancer, there was the slightest variation in that positions 3, 4, and 5 switched places, but both orderings were equally good. I found a couple other queries with slight changes in ordering, but nothing significant. Rather than review Alexa’s relevancy, I will save that for another article. In terms of Icerocket’s interface, thumbnail snapshots, a la Alexa, are displayed next to each result and there is also a "quick view" option to peek without leaving Icerocket. There is also an "archive" link next to each result that takes you to the Wayback Machine. As I’ve said before, I’m happy any time I see the Internet Archive being used.

Blogs – this is great to see as a choice and I am sure this option will begin to crop up more and more. Blog searches default to "by date", and you sometimes don’t get any hits. I searched for san diego mayoral race and got zero results. When I chose "sort by relevance", I got 10 results, which seems to be the max. You might think that only the very latest results should be returned in a blog search, and for the most part I agree. However, in the sorted by relevance option the posts ranged from 7 hours to a day and a half ago, and that’s still pretty recent. The sorting by relevance is misleading, because all the results were actually sorted by date. Let me clarify: sort by date returned no results. Sort by relevance returned 10 results but they were actually sorted by date. In terms of relevancy, the results were good. Only two of the results were not relevant, and that’s because one was a political blog that mentioned San Diego and the Los Angeles mayor’s race, but was not about the San Diego race. The other result that wasn’t so good was a blog that only posts links to the titles of news stories, so yeah I guess the link was relevant, but the blog itself provided no context.

For another test query, I checked on Yahoo news to see what the lead story was. I grabbed the phrase Saudi attack and plugged it in and sorted by date. The most recent one was "-10037 minute ago", almost as if I was searching faster than time itself! And changing it to sort by relevance returned the exact same results. The results were peculiar. The first result was from Outside the Beltway, OK, that’s good. But the eight other results all seemed to be from the same source, only titled slightly differently. Most were called "Saudi Arabia News .Net – Newspapers on the Net", but there was also "Cairo News .Net – Newspapers on the Net" and "Manila News .Net – Newspapers on the Net", and all the pages were formatted and branded similarly. The articles were all indeed unique, but it raises a couple of points. First of all, should de-duplication occur at the source level so that the user can get a broad range of sources? And if so, how can an engine recognize that these sites are all from the same source? It’s not easy. Also, are these really blog results? They seem more like news results to me.

This is all just a longwinded way of saying it’s great they’re searching blogs, but some advanced features might save the day and make it more useful. And definitely the sort by relevance needs to really be sorting by relevance.

News – n/a. I tried my Saudi attack query, but got no results. San Francisco hotel strike also got no results. It seems the news search must be temporarily down. (Note: I tried it several times on 12/16 and 12/17, all with no luck.)

Phone Pics – this is a feature I haven’t seen on any other engine. I tried a search for Howard Dean and got 10 results, some of which were very relevant, while others were somewhat relevant. The difference being that the very relevant were photos of Dean, while the somewhat relevant were correct in context, but weren’t actually photos of him. For example, there was a photo of a Dean banner. The results are coming from Textamerica with the same exact results being shown in both places. Phone Pics is a nifty thing to play around with, but I’m not sure it deserves a tab at the same level as web, news, etc.

Images – a meta search engine for images. Icerocket aggregates results from a variety of sources. Right below each result it says where the result was grabbed from, such as Webshots, Picsearch, etc. Howard Dean returns 106 results, all of which are relevant. Of course that’s an easy query, but I don’t want to spend too much time on image search. I’ll quote Blake from his Blog: "If you look at our image search, I think you’ll find some images you won’t see on the other engines". I’m guessing he means the combination of meta-results is unique even though each individual result comes from another engine.

Find a Friend – a meta search engine for personals. I have never seen this on a search engine before. It searches from multiple databases based on the criteria you enter, such as desired and age and location. I guess this is a cool feature, but similar to Phone Pics I’m not convinced it’s on the same tier as web search. And it should probably be called personals search.

For other features, Icerocket has an RSS Builder which lets you add RSS feeds to your web site. There is an Advanced Search, but the options are fairly basic. Hopefully they’ll build that up a bit more. There is a Toolbar, which includes an option for Firefox users like myself. And Ice Spy, which shows what other users are searching for.

As I mentioned, Icerocket only displays one sponsored result, and for every query I tried it was a small link titled "Free ipod! ". On the one hand it’s too bad they’re not targeting the ads to my query, but on the other, and probably bigger hand, it’s nice to only have one very small link instead of the three to five common on other engines. And, what’s even more noteworthy is that they are leaving nearly all of the right hand side of their web results’ pages empty. Empty! Can you imagine empty real estate on a search engine these days? It’s like a big gaping hole that’s just waiting for AdWords to slip right in. I really like that they haven’t done that, but I won’t fault them if they do end up doing it. After all, they need to make money.

I hope that for each tab they put up some information about where the results are coming from, particularly since transparency goes along with Icerocket’s goals of being responsive.

In my opinion the most compelling thing Icerocket is offering is its Blog search, although I never did figure out for sure if they’re powering it themselves or not. Other interesting things that Icerocket offers are the tabs for searching phone pics and for searching personal ads. I haven’t seen these two filters called out by other search engines, but maybe there’s a reason for that. I hope in the future they make web search more distinctive and unique. Even if they don’t get to the point of doing their own web crawl, they can distinguish themselves by customizing Alexa’s results, customizing their interface, or mixing in results from other engines.

About Chris

I'm Chris and I've worked in the search engine industry since the late '90s.

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