By joshuaaa (19 Dec 2009 19:21)
Which is the better news search engine? This blog compares the two, looking at their overall user experience, ease of use, and functionality.
News Search: Silobreaker vs. NewsSift
Until October 5, 2009 at approximately 11:42am, I had never heard of either of these two search engines. Now that I have, however, I can see myself using both of these tools if I were to ever need to research or gather information on a particular company, person, or place. Silobreaker and NewsSift round up resources such as blogs, newspaper articles, online articles, television & radio opinions, and the like. These two search engines each display their information in different ways, with different pros and different cons. I decided to test out each search engine with queries related to my term project to see how they held up under fire.
At First Glance
Some of the biggest stories of the day are available right on the start page. While this would be neat if you were simply just perusing around the internet catching up on news, it doesn't really benefit me and my term project (unless, of course, one of the articles pertains to my topic but I'm not banking on that happening often, if ever). On the right hand side of the screen there are specialized boxes, one of which contains some of the most popular searches on the sight within the categories of people, companies, organizations, key phrases, cities, countries, topics, industries, and publications. Each of these categories has a link you can click to show more examples of each category than the three of four most popular that they initially list. The other boxes allow you to see geographically where the news hot spots are, what topics the articles on the website are trending towards and what types of articles they are (news articles, blog, audio/video), a unique network function that allows you to see how certain topics are related to others, popular blogs, and audio and video content. After spending some time investigating the home page, I began to delve into the actual database of information.
Silobreaker and My Term Project
I entered a query into Silobreaker regarding the topic for which I have had the most trouble finding information: the United States Postal Service (USPS). As I began to type my query [united states postal service] into the search box, a drop down menu appeared and offered a suggestion of [United States Postal Service (Organization)]. I chose this option, and some results were returned that appeared to be semi-useful and largely pertaining to the postal service itself and how it is failing, needs fixing, and is facing problems. I decided to try a different search and queried [USPS] — this returned no results. In light of that, I began to search for [U.S. Postal Service] and a suggestion appeared as [U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (Company)]. Using this search, I was able to retrieve results pertaining more to the legal issues involving the Postal Service. For every query, the boxes on the right side of the screen gave me their typical information, which was surprisingly not very helpful at all. The "In Focus" box gave me John Potter, which was good, but really nothing else useful.
The overall formatting of the page is annoying. There are ads all over the place, in the middle of your results, in between the boxes on the right, everywhere. Some of the results get the entire length of the page; others only get half the page. You can't move your mouse over the page without opening a pop out window giving the particulars of the certain issue you happened to hover over too long. The best part of the page is located all the way at the bottom, the more content section. This gives, in one spot with easy scannability, a list of articles relevant to your search where you can filter between news articles, blogs, reports, audio/video, and fact sheets.
At First Glance
Nothing too impressive about NewsSift's start page. Popular searches are accessible on the bottom right, and a "NewsSift of the Day" on the bottom left. In the center on the bottom is a more interesting feature: Insight with NewsSift. Sentences, questions, and statements with links embedded into them are listed next to category titles. These links lead you to results pages with specially engineered queries that return proof of the statement or the answer to the question.
- For example One of the questions under the topic heading Software & Programming was "Why does Apple scorn netbooks?" This takes you to a tailored query three degrees deep, and filters the number of articles down to just forty-three. From these articles you can easily find the answer to the question.
Again, this is a neat feature but not immediately useful for my term project (except for the fact that it does a good job of showing what a good query looks like).
NewsSift and My Term Project
First of all, let me say that I really like the process with which you search on NewsSift. I think the drop down topic, organization, place, person and theme options that appear when you begin typing a query is really cool and helpful, and helps you narrow your search in a way that is both visual and informational.
With that said, I began my search. No suggestions were generated for [USPS] or [united states postal service] — they were looking for something more along the lines of [U.S. Postal Service]. Upon typing in this query, a suggestion appeared under the organization drop down tab, on which I clicked. This results page was much more to my liking. Cool little widgets lined the left hand margin of the page, indicating what the common sentiment about the company appeared to be, and what topics were affecting it positively or negatively. Additionally, I could see the breakdown of the types of pages included in the results (i.e. blogs, news articles, television & radio, magazines, newswires, etc.) as well as filter using these categories. Sure, there were ads on the page, but they were all conveniently contained to the right side of the screen so that I could simply avoid them altogether. Other "widgets" showed the top places, top people, and top themes that were present in the results. My favorite "widget" was entitled "Top Organizations." It was my favorite simply because the top two companies it listed were the two other companies I plan to focus on for my term project: FedEx and UPS. Apparently, many of the articles that NewsSift returned regarding the USPS had information about these two other companies as well. By clicking on either of the company names, it filtered the results to only the ones that involved both the USPS and the company of my choice.
- For example I clicked on FedEx Corporation and narrowed the number of results returned from 610 to just 78. This also resulted in yet another "widget" appearing, which gave me the vitals on FedEx, including their CEO and CFO. The remaining results all held information pertaining to both the Post Office and FedEx. I found United Parcel Service (UPS) in the new "Top Organizations" box and clicked on it to filter, yet again, the results to only the articles that had information pertaining to all three topics. This took the number of results all the way down to 23.
Ding, Ding, Ding… Do We Have a Winner?
I think it is safe to say yes. While both engines returned usable results, the way in which NewsSift retrieved those articles, blogs, etc. and showed them to me was far superior than the methods employed by Silobreaker. In addition to the RSS feeds I have subscribed to from each of the three industry leaders' websites, I believe I will be frequenting NewsSift quite regularly, while I may only pay Silobreaker a visit every now and then to see what it has to offer.