Once upon a time, when there were actually a bunch of search engines to compare results from, we had Parallel Search Forms.  I won’t call them an “engine” because all they did was display the results from several search engines side by side.

You had one form to enter your search terms and the site would query 2 or 3 search engines simultaneously, displaying the  results side by side for comparison.

Example: You can see the remains of one here (opens in new tab) as an illustration.

I would love to have one of these today, setup like this:

Privacy Search engine #1: Duckduckgo – DDG uses Bing as the backbone of their search.

Privacy Search engine #2: Startpage – SP uses un geolocated, un personalized Google.

Privacy Search engine #3: Mojeek – uses their own index.

This would make it easy to compare search results of the first couple of pages of each AND how many ads are on those pages all in real time.

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This is the infamous vacuum cleaner post I have been promising to write.

I just bought a refurbished vacuum cleaner.  A Tristar MG-2 canister, if you must know.  It’s a compact model which is handy to pull out quickly when you track something in and for carrying out to the garage for cleaning out the cars.  New Tristars are very expensive.  Refurbished they still are not cheap but they will outlast most of the plastic junk built today.

A family I knew well, bought a Tristar back in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s.  Back then the styling had not changed since the 1940’s.  The family nicknamed it The Pig, because it looked like a little piggy rolling behind them.  It was ugly in a cute sort of way, built like a tank and powerful.  I know they used it for over 20 years and they loved it.

Vacuum Cleaner Buying Guide

Better to buy a quality refurbished vacuum than a new cheap plastic vac. Most new plastic vacs cost $150 to 500 or more.  The really cheap ones are abysmal and all are kind of considered disposable.

Here are the numbers I am seeing: You can buy a new “high end” plastic vacuum cleaner for $500.  It might be made in China or it might be assembled in Germany from Chinese parts.  Or you can spend $250 – 500 for a quality refurbished vacuum cleaner, made in USA, made of metal, that will still be running in 10 – 15 years.  Heck, $250 – 350 buys a heck of a lot in the refurbished department.

Most of the high quality vacuums are made in the USA. I like that.

High quality vacuums can be repaired, Usually it’s just a new belt.  They can be refurbished and have a second life and will probably still outlast the modern plastic ones.  I’ve learned this the hard way.

It is okay to have more than one vacuum cleaner.  I have one for each floor of my house because I’m done lugging a vac up and down flights of stairs.  Also a vac model that is perfect for your ground floor may not work as well upstairs where the bedrooms are.

Bag vs. Bag less

I’ve owned expensive bag less vacuums.  I hated having to go outside to the dumpster all the time to empty the  dirt collector with dust flying everywhere in the wind.  Trying to empty that dirt cup into a garbage can indoors just puts dust back in the air.  And it’s all plastic so dust clings to that dust collector like crazy.  If you have pets, the disposable bags are neater and do not collect pet smells the way plastic does.  The only two bag less vacuums I recommend are Rainbow and Filter Queen (see below).

 

Upright vs. canister

Whatever you prefer. I have had several upright vacuums starting with a couple of Hoovers to a couple of Dysons.  Uprights cant get under furniture the way a canister can. Uprights need some room to maneuver.  Uprights seem to work better in offices and retail stores than in smaller home spaces.  If you have large rooms and hallways with big expanses of wall to wall carpet, and are used to an upright, get an upright.  Get a refurbished Kirby.  You want one with a Kevlar fan blade.  If you have small rooms with lots of tight spaces I think a canister is better.

Why Buy Refurbished Vacuums?

Why buy a refurbished vacuum cleaner?  If you buy one of the vacuum cleaners listed below brand new, you are going to pay over $1000 – 2000 or $3000 or more depending on model.  That is a lot of money – too much money for me.  If I buy a properly refurbished machine I get like 96% of the machine if it was new at a fraction of the New price.

Get to the Vacuum Cleaner Models Man!

Upright: Kirby.  Runner up: Electrolux/Aerus upright.

Canisters:

Rainbow: Made in USA.  These use water to filter out dust and dirt instead of a bag. Even the older pre-HEPA models are remarkable at filtering the air.  I’m convinced every home should have a Rainbow and here is why: a Rainbow can suck up water: plumbing leaks, basement seepage, roof leaks, windows left open in a storm the Rainbow can suck those wet messes up.  If you live in a place prone to flooding a Rainbow is great for cleaning up afterwards.  It’s great for sucking up excess water out of a basement carpet.  It’s great to have one in reserve.

Pro Tip: If you buy a Rainbow, invest in a non-electrified wet hose, plastic tubes and squeegee attachment if your unit didn’t come with it.  These can be aftermarket but made for your model Rainbow. Cheap insurance!

Plus, of course, it vacuums up dry dust and sand like crazy.

There is a downside to the Rainbow, because you have to fill the tank with water before each use, it is not the best for a quick cleanup when the kids track in dirt and the in-laws are due any second, or for lugging out to the driveway to vacuum the interior of the car. The Rainbow is for weekly cleaning day.

Others in no particular order. You really can’t go wrong with any of these.

Electrolux/Aerus:  These are well built machines which are sort of torpedo shaped.  They have a great disposable filter bag system so bag changes are clean and neat.  The retractable cord is a great feature.  They last a long time.

Tristar: Made in USA. compact, powerful, they are built to last.  If you need something smaller and lighter for lugging around or in a cramped home or apartment this is perfect.

Filter Queen:  Made in USA. my experience is only second hand but they have a reputation for lasting forever and being very good at cleaning and air quality without losing suction.  These can be good if you have a long haired pets.  They even make a dog grooming attachment.  Refurbished Filter Queens seem to be in high demand.

Where to buy?

Online Retailers:  There are a number of them, a good search engine will find them.  I bought my Rainbow from Great Vacs a few years ago and I just ordered that Tristar from them because I was satisfied with their service.

eBay:  You need to do your homework buying a refurbished vacuum cleaner on eBay.  You want to find a seller that really refurbishes the machine and doesn’t just polish up the exterior with Armor All and pass it off as refurbishment.  Find out: 1. what the seller does for refurbishment, 2. what their return and refund policy is (if they don’t have one pass), 3. what is their sales history and buyer satisfaction rating, 4. how much is shipping and what is the final price with shipping, 5. what exactly you are getting: hoses, attachments etc.  You want to separate the garage sale finds from a truly refurbished model done by someone that knows what they are doing.

What do you have?

Note: reading below is strictly optional in case you have insomnia.

I have a Rainbow “D” model bought refurbished as my main machine on my main floor.  I dust with it and sweep the floors with it. I bought this a few years ago online from Great Vacs (see above.)  It’s also my “just in case” vac should I ever have a wet cleanup requiring more than just a quick mop (ie. dishwasher leaks, clothes washer leaks, plumbing leaks, water in the basement, etc.)

Pro Tip:  I dump my Rainbow dirty water on the back lawn in good weather.  The lawn loves it.  In winter I empty the water into the toilet.

When I bought the Rainbow, I already had a subcompact 1990’s Royal canister with shoulder strap for quick spot cleaning, doing the stairs and cleaning car interiors. It was too small in capacity for general cleaning but it was good for those jobs.  The Royal also had a tendency to flop over off it’s wheels when trailing behind.  The Royal finally broke down and repairs were more than the little plastic vac was worth.  The refurbished Tristar, mentioned above is replacing the Royal.

My upstairs is all carpet.  I have a refurbished Electrolux, that I bought on eBay.  It is close to the model we had when I was a kid, so I guess nostalgia.

Unfinished basement:  I have a Dyson canister.  I originally bought this as a general purpose vac.  I hated it from the start.  I replaced it with the Rainbow.  The Dyson sits next to my workbench, plugged in and ready to suck up sawdust and anything else on the concrete floor in that area and off the workbench.  It works well for that task.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the brands mentioned.  Views expressed are my own opinions.  Your mileage may vary. I get no compensation from anybody.  I have no relationship with Great Vacs other than I am a customer.

If you really have to buy new, my recommendations don’t change, find a local dealer for any of the brands named. They are all still making quality new products. (Electrolux is now called Aerus.)  2018.

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This is Part II of my series on the Death of Webrings.  Part I is here.

For this article I am going to use two examples.  I want to make it clear that I am not picking on the example rings, their creators or their intended uses.  I do want to point out what I see as flaws in their model that unless corrected will inhibit use, uptake and general adoption by the public.

Modern 2018 webrings overview.  There are not a heck of a lot of examples which is why I am discussing the only two I know about.  Both of these webrings are one offs, meaning they are custom coded to form one webring.  They are not a centralized service designed to host many webrings.  Nor are they designed so that anybody can create and run a webring.  In this sense they are less democratic than the old 1990’s style ring hosts like Webring.org, Ringsurf.com and Webringo.com.  On the other hand, they do avoid being dependent on a third-party silo.  The creator has full control.

Indiewebring

Indiewebring is made on Glitch which seems to be a remotely hosted service. If so, it is a sort of silo.   I am in no way a coder, but the way Indiewebring operates is really neat.  It is designed to link together Indieweb enabled websites.  Unlike a ’90’s style ring where you have to register with the ringhost, then register your websites, then apply to webrings, this modern ring has almost none of that “friction” to joining.  You put your site URL into the form and it checks to see if you have enough Indieweb identification and stuff on your site.  If you do you get a code which you must place on your site.  Almost no instructions, few explanations if things go wrong, all very minimalist which is the fashion.

It works well and at least at the front end, it is simple.

The idea is neat.

This ring, as built, is really more of a club or association.  It is not organized around topical content, but rather if you have the right code on your site.  As such it’s almost like a merit badge.  There is nothing wrong with that, I’m just pointing out the limitation.

It is a black box.  There is no public index of ring member sites or how many sites are in the ring.  The only transparency is to follow the ring.

I presume rings like these can be replicated – if you know code or understand how things work at Glitch.  If replicated how does one make such a ring topical?  How would that auto signup feature check to make sure all the applicants are about one topic? (ie. blue widgets, Star Trek, catching lobsters. etc.)  Just having the right code in place to join is not enough for most visitors.  They want to surf a ring that matches their interests.  Code is not content. Code is not entertainment.

Administering such a ring is also a black box.  How are member sites curated?  Are all ring codes intact?

My point is not to bash this individual ring, but to say this is not the model to build a “webring revival” on.  It needs to be:

  1. DIscoverable.  Hubs, interconnection.  Does the ring code give any clues as to what the ring is about?
  2. Easily replicated by average person.  If every ring has to be custom made there will be no ring revival.
  3. Topical.  Does it match the ring topic?
  4. Curated.  Are the topic and the quality of the sites right for membership in the ring?
  5. Managed.  Are all ring codes in place?  Can they be found? In short, is it navigable?
  6. Transparent. What are the signup rules? How many members? Who is a member?

It may well be that all these concerns can be addressed eventually.  If so, great!  I think the web might be ready for this.  If not, it is an evolutionary dead end.

Microcast.club

Microcast.club is getting much closer to solving the questions above.  This idea has some legs and I would like to see the concept grow and maybe fork to be even bigger than a webring.

Here is how it works: you put your microcast feed URL in the form. You get a webring code to put on your microcast website.  You also appear in the flat directory you see on the ring page.

This has some legs for the future.  It’s more topical and open.  The ring and the directory reinforce each other providing traffic for everyone.  I’m assuming the ring code is checked periodically and that having it on your site keeps you in the directory. Remove the ring code and lose your listing.  This helps keep thing easier to administer.

It’s still not subject oriented but there may be ways to overcome that.  If that can be overcome either by human review (might be wise) or machine detection you could expand this idea into a semi automated categorized directory with multiple subjects.  Just speculating.

It still has many of the same problems as the Indiewebring above.  It’s custom made so it is hard for the common webmaster to duplicate.  That limits mass adoption.

I wish them both well.

Back to old school.

I did find The Orca Ringmaker.  This is a php script and as near as I can tell, it lets a webmaster create one webring.  This gets around concerns about remote ring hosting silos going under.  You are the host.  Anyone who knows how to install this on their server can run one so it can be duplicated.  Pro Tip: Even if you have no use for it now, I would download a copy now.  Webring stuff can disappear from the web overnight.

Update

I found this after publication: Bookmark: Ringlink download. Which is a perl script to let you run, not just a webring, but a host of webrings.

What does this mean?

Recap:

  • Two of the three remaining web ring hosts appear broken (read slowly dying.)
  • Webringo.com is at least in working order but appears to only have a few thriving rings and many abandoned ones.  (This is sad because it has some good features.)
  • Indiewebring is a one off. Neatly done but problems with replication and wider adoption.
  • Microcast.club has some good features but the same questions about wider adoption still exist.
  • Orca Ringmaker is a bit harder to start up (you have to install a script) but at least it’s off the shelf and ready to roll once you overcome that.

 

None of this gives me hope for a resurgence of widespread webring adoption.  I’d like to be wrong.  Unless somebody like Taylor Swift suddenly makes a webring and promotes the heck out of them, I just don’t think people will notice in enough numbers to matter.

I hope somebody proves me wrong.

 

 

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If I were building a search engine…

  1. You need to start building your own index of the web.  That means you need a crawler (robot) and it needs to be good.  It takes time to build an index and it is not cheap.
  2. I would gather in info from other providers: Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha whatever I could cobble together.
  3. Until your own index is ready, you need to have a search results from a big search engine.  There are only two left: Google and Bing in English.
  4. What happens if Google or Bing refuse to sell you a search feed or if they refuse to renew because you are getting too big?  You could probably hammer together a good blended backfill feed by combining Mojeek, Gigablast and Yandex using your own algorithm.  You either lead with your own results and use the other three as backfill or you blend your own results in with the three others in a sort of seamless metasearch.  (You do need to plan for “what if” scenarios.
  5. All the above is to buy you time while you learn and refine how to crawl the web on your own.
  6. Eventually you roll out your own search index as the backbone of the search results with the others maybe on standby for queries you are weak on.

Is Duckduckgo using Bing as it’s backbone search provider while it builds its own index?  We know DDG has it’s own crawler, but we don’t know if it is building it’s own index or just spam hunting.  I certainly do not know.  If it were me, I would not be building a search engine user base successfully, and expect somebody else to provide the search feed forever.  Not when there are only two big indexes.  If I were DDG I would have a Big Plan plus I would have contingency plans about 3 or 4 layers deep.  DDG is pretty quiet about all this which is probably wise.

Qwant seems to be the other player.  Their strategy is more open:  they are actively building an index by crawling the web.  Bing is providing backfill.  It is not obvious where Qwant’s index ends and Bing’s begins.  The results are good and seamless.  With a little luck, marketing and money Qwant will eventually need to use Bing less and less.  This too is a good plan.

Fortunately, Bing is willing to sell it’s search feed to just about anyone that can pay the fee.  For now.  I do not think Microsoft really knows what to do with Bing, except to somehow milk it for all the dollars they can get until they decide what to do with it and how it fits in with the company strategy.

Search engines are important but they are not as important as they were before the social media silos of Facebook and Twitter.  You don’t need Google to find a company’s Facebook page.

If I were trying to build a search engine today those are some of the things I would try. All this could change in a year.

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The finding of the Coroner’s Court is that 1990’s style webrings are officially dead.

Evidence of Demise

  • Two of the three remaining Ring Hosts are broken.  Both Webring.org and Ringsurf.com are broken in such a way that nobody can sign up as new members and it has been that way for a time.
  • The third remaining ring host, Webringo.com, is functioning.  It just appears that they have no traffic.  But points to them for keeping things in working order.
  • New 1990’s style rings created have had zero take up.  This is too small a sample to really tell but it is a small indicator.
  • A newer Indie-tech style webring has little useful traffic despite a user base.

What Killed the Webring?

  1. Generation shift.  Web 1.0 users “surfed the Web” so they liked the idea of a curated grouping of websites they could surf to.  Modern web users are used to helicoptering into a single web page via a search engine.  They only care about that page and it’s information, not websites or surfing.
  2. Rings are passive.  They sit there and wait to be discovered.  They are passive in recruiting members and they are passive in finding users.  Passive cannot break through the noise of the modern web.
  3. Search engines used to suck.  That was one reason for webrings you couldn’t find anything.
  4. Geocities, Tripod and Homestead.  Webmasters on these free hosts wanted to be found, joining a webring got you traffic.  Those free host webmasters were also familiar with HTML so they were not intimidated by having to put a ring code on their sites.  Modern webmasters use CMS’s and are more intimidated by messing with HTML code.
  5. Young webmasters may have heard of webrings in passing but have never seen one in the wild.  They don’t know what they are. Ditto the public visitor, they don’t know what they are.
  6. Commerce.  The web in the 1990’s was little used for commerce.  It was a place to explore, have fun, find neat things, exchange information and ideas.  Rings were good for explorers but not daily commuters.  Today commerce has taken over the web, efficiency rules so we can maximize sales, revenue and consumption. Webrings were never good for that.
  7. Lack of traffic.  Webring hosts had hubs.  These were a directory of webrings organized by subject. Example.  Many tens of thousands of visitors went to these ring hosts to find rings to surf, because search engines sucked.  So a webring gained traffic from both the ring host and the ring codes on individual sites.  The biggest reason you joined a ring or started your own ring, was to tap into the hundreds of thousands of eyeballs at those hubs, the code on other websites was icing on the cake.

The notable exception to this today might be the Bomis style ring.  It had enough differences that it might be a sleeper.  I’ve searched for any old perl or php scripts that would create a Bomis clone, there are hints that one may have existed at one time, but it is long gone.

There may still be some life in old style webrings: it seems to me neocities.org is a perfect match for webrings.  But it would take some promotion.  A ring host would need to get listed in Neocities webmaster resources pages and it might catch on. They would be a good match just as they were for Geocities et al.  But it would take effort.

The demise of the webring does not make me sad.  It’s time has passed and there are better ways to find websites.  It would have been nice to have it as a tool in the fight against the Google search monopoly silo but it’s a bit like fighting Delta Force with a sword.

This is part of a series: See Part II Here.

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UK based Mojeek.com is the next privacy search engine I am going to make my default and use for a few weeks.  (There is a UK specialized version at Mojeek.co.uk, plus German and French versions.)

I did a quick look over before, but this test will be daily use as my default browser.  I will try my best to use it exclusively, without resorting to a backup search engine.

I really don’t know what to expect.  Mojeek has it’s own unique database that it is building by crawling the web with a robot.  But, unlike Duckduckgo or Qwant, it has no backfill from a massively larger search engine to back up the Mojeek search index.  They out there with no training wheels.  That takes guts.

So we will just have to see how I get on.

I don’t have to do this alone.  You can join me!  Just make Mojeek your default search engine for a few weeks and use it as your daily driver.  I would love to hear how you do and what you think.

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My experiment with Qwant search engine is ending early.  On July 20th, 2018 I started using it as my default search engine for a month long test.  Today, August 7th, I am terminating further testing.

The test terminated when I got yet another captcha because they detected unusual activity from me and thought I was a robot. That never happens to me.  I just don’t type that fast.  When I’m trying to find something I do keep refining my search query.  I guess that is too much for Qwant.  They apparently only want dilettantes doing an occasional search. This is not a robust search engine for somebody who seriously works and searches.

The truth is, I was already getting irritated with Qwant.  Not for the quality of it’s search results, but because the search results page was taking too long to load.  The page is pretty but slow.  I’d want lean and fast results.  The actual search results were pretty darn good.

But I can’t use a search engine that craps out on me right in the middle of a project.

Pros:

Trying to build their own unique index.

Decent search results.

Privacy

Cons:

Slow

Not robust. Can’t handle multiple searches typed by a slow human typist.

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For my own amusement and because the WordPress plugin was free, I made a little bookshelf of free public domain ebooks available for the Kindle.  It’s a bit like having a Little Free Library on this blog.  I enjoyed them so I thought I would point them out.  They remind me of a gentler era.  Folks from the UK should be able to find the same free titles on Amazon.co.uk.

Bookshelf here.

Disclaimer: All the books are free and in the public domain.  I am not an Amazon Affiliate so I derive no benefit from this.  The button “Purchase from Amazon” just takes you to the Amazon page where it is free.  Just encouraging reading.

Enjoy.

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I just installed OStatus plugin for WordPress.  It’s a bit short on details as to how it all works.  Scant few controls too, one check box on the plugin panel about activating feed summary or some such and nothing on the Post screen.

For me the biggest reason to try it is better two way communication with Mastodon.

I always have thought web directories should have backfill from a search engine when you search them.  Especially, general directories.

Yahoo (dubbed “Mighty Yahoo”) was the first directory to add a backfill provider on it’s search results. First Alta Vista, then Inktomi, then Google, then Inktomi again provided backfill results for Y!.  Snap/NBCi directory had backfill and so did Looksmart.

How backfill worked was somebody would search the directory, when the directory ran out of listings that matched the query, you would see search results from the backfill provider.  (Being Mighty Yahoo’s backfill provider cemented Google’s reputation and proved to be one of the biggest mistakes Yahoo ever made.)  What was important is the search portal needed to provide something in a search that would satisfy the person searching, otherwise they would start going elsewhere. And they could go elsewhere because there was genuine competition in web search back then.

It gets harder for niche directories.  For example: if you go to a Star Trek niche directory and search for “uniforms” it is assumed you are only going to get uniform sites that are related to Star Trek.  In this instance you don’t want a general backfill giving results for police uniforms or nurses uniforms.

For backfill to work on a niche subject directory you almost need a place to put in an extra search “slug” to bring it into context.  So in our example, you need to have a place in your admin panel to add “star trek” as a term to the backfill.  So that somebody searching for uniforms on your Star Trek directory are automatically searching for “star trek uniforms” on the backfill.  The “star trek” is always added to the backfill.

It gets even harder for a local or geographic directory.  Frankly I think backfill should not be used with a local directory.

I did some looking around, Google and Bing are way too expensive to get a search feed from.  Smaller engines like Mojeek.com (or Mojeek.co.uk) or Gigablast.com provide search results API’s.  Both are affordable, but Gigablast’s is really really affordable.

Of course, I don’t know how to actually code this.  That’s what coders are for.  😀

But the trick here is this:

  • The more listings you get in your directory the more users will use the search function.
  • You have to have a search function.
  • No matter how sophisticated your directory search is, you have a finite amount of listings.
  • Mobile devices make the search function even more important.
  • This is why most will need backfill.