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November 05, 2006

Uses for Google Custom Search Engines – Let Me Count the Ways

When I get carried away with something, I sit down with Mary and try to convince her my enthusiasm is justified.  Usually she brings me back down to earth.  Sometimes we find ourselves sharing a growing excitement; in the old days companies got started that way.  After I blogged that Google CSEs (Custom Search Engines) may be the NBT (Next Big Thing), we had one of our talks.

If this were the old days, we’d be starting a company.  Not doing that anymore so we’ll share some of our ideas for things that can be done with CSEs.

CSEs will quickly become a standard part of blogs.  Bloggers have long been able to incorporate Google code to search their own blogs so nothing new there.  But it will be the rare blog which doesn’t soon support search of its blogroll or search by category of blogrolls that have been arranged by category.  Look for this on Fractals of Change.

If you’re a blogger who’s expert on a category, your readers will expect you to create a CSE which searches the sites you find credible on the subject.  By the way, the search can cover any sites, not just blogs so this goes beyond searching just your blogroll.

CSEs tie networks together.  My Way, The Entrepreneur Network, which I coordinate, already has two custom searches set up.  Federated Media has a CSE for the blogs (including this one) which it represents.

CSEs are an important way for closed groups to collaborate.  Any of the My Way bloggers can add new sites to one of the My Way hosted CSEs.  It’ll be interesting to see whether the search of only our own blogs or of all the blogs we think are relevant to entrepreneurs and startups will be more useful to our readers.  The group could be a faculty, staff of a company, attendees at a conference, customers of something or other, forum members etc., etc.  Right now invitations can only be sent out to 100 people through Google but there’s an obvious hack to get around that.

CSEs are a way to gather the wisdom of the mob.  The next CSE I plan to set up will let readers of Fractals of Change volunteer to add websites to that search engine.  There is no limit on the number of people who can volunteer.  There’ll be spam problems, I’m sure.  The tools Google has for managing volunteers are primitive and you can’t enlist volunteers to keep tabs on each other as wikipedia does.  Nevertheless, they’ll be great value in some user-created CSEs.

CSEs are drop-dead simple tool for local just-about-anything.  It won’t be long before every chamber of commerce and Rotary has a CSE of its members’ sites.  Why not?  Resorts will have them for surrounding areas.  There should be (and I’m sure there will be) one associated with every airport, train station, and Interstate rest stop. How many companies can you dream up that can have great growth by facilitating some part of this?

CSEs are a simple tool for monetizing free WiFi. A successful model for free WiFi is an advertising frame around a window in which visitors can search the web.  A simple advertising model for that frame is a set of CSEs which are essentially online yellow pages.  This works both for the users who’ll want a local search and for the advertisers who get a targeted audience.

CSEs are a way for charities to recognize and reward their sponsors.  We try to shop at the stores which have supported the charities we care about.  A CSE of their websites linked from the charity’s sites facilitates that. (You can guess that this idea came from Mary who’s always looking for the NBT in non-profit fund raising.)

CSEs are a way to quickly establish a list of resources in an emergency. It literally takes five minutes to set up a CSE. Google’ll host the whole thing if you want.  So you could quickly make a CSE of sites with up-to-date information needed following some sort of disaster.

CSEs are a way of promoting one point of view.  Tired of seeing different points of view than your own when you Google a contentious subject like Net Neutrality or Global Warming.  Make a CSE of only those sites which support your POV.  Or make a CSE which excludes sites that piss you off.

CSEs are a way to get a balanced set of views.  You can make a CSE which includes thoughtful spokespeople on all sides of a complex subject.  You can leave out the flamers.

CSEs are a way to search down the long tail.  You can construct a CSE which searches the whole web but favors the sites you’ve chosen.  Since the global search engines rank sites according to the number of other sites which point to them, brilliant pieces with few links to them are on the unseen page 100+ and something of search results.  Not on your CSE.  Doesn’t have to be that way on your CSE.

CSEs are a revenue source.  It’s mandatory that they carry Google Ad Sense ads (unless they’re set up by a non profit).  All you need is an Ad Sense account to share in the revenue. Earn more than $100 in total revenue (not so easy) and Google will send you a check.  A popular CSE will get lots of hits, though, and should represent a well-targeted audience.  The ads are targeted to the query so should have a good click through rate.

CSEs, themselves, will quickly become a long tail phenomenon. There will be just a few that will get most of the traffic.  The rest will be valuable and will be used in niches but they’ll be in the tail and not in the head.  There is a huge advantage to being an early mover when a new category is growing its tail.  Where’s your CSE?

The first post in this series is about an experiment with a closed CSE;

The second post is about drafting bloggers in the My Way blog network to contribute to a collaborative CSE ;

The third is musings on why CSEs may be the NBT.

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