Overlord of the underweb

Hindustan Times | By, Toronto
Nov 20, 2012 01:56 AM IST

Imagine an online search for Facebook that omits all the results from Facebook.com. MillionShort.com helps you find obscure things on the Internet by eliminating the most obvious results. Anirudh Bhattacharyya reports. Alternative search portals

Imagine an online search for Facebook that omits all the results from Facebook.com. And from other major websites like Wikipedia, and instead the first few results it delivers are from sites offering free graphics for users' profile pages, a security and privacy guide, precautions for parents, or a collection of funny statuses.

HT Image
HT Image

That, more or less, is the premise behind the new search engine, MillionShort.com, which boldly goes where no search has gone before. It removes the first million websites that would appear on major search providers like Google or Bing. It does, however, provide users with the ability to customise by omitting smaller chunks, say 100,000 sites, or if they prefer, none.

"It's not like going to page 20 on Google. Facebook might have 25 billion pages on it; that's just gone. By removing one million sites' domains, you're actually removing trillions of pages," said Sanjay Arora, the Toronto-born and based entrepreneur who heads Exponential Labs, which created Million Short.

Arora, whose parents are originally from New Delhi, chanced upon Million Short concept. As he explained, "It's a fluke that it happened. I was talking to my wife a few Sundays ago, saying, 'Wouldn't it be kind of interesting to see what the Internet was like without Facebook, without Wikipedia?' and it was really that simple thought in passing, one afternoon one day." That was this May. The same day he started a late night coding marathon and by midday on Monday he had a framework.

Essentially what Million Short does is take the web back to its wilder days, before search engines as we know them now became dominant and instead directories like Dmoz or the original Yahoo allowed surfers to trawl through a collection of links that led to unexpected discoveries. As Arora said, "You get a different set of results, typically non-monetised, non-commercialised sites." There are a lot of sites out there that get lost in the sheer volume of the web, with estimates for the indexed web at about 10 billion pages.

Google is the search goliath, with nearly three-quarters of the global market. Trying to trick Google's proprietary algorithm is an industry in itself, with search engine optimisation experts and Google-bombing plays to try and get a site's links into the first results page. That's often critical because users rarely pass beyond the second page, and the majority of results for any given search often come from a handful of Internet behemoths like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon or Wikipedia. Of course, that also allows Google to declutter the web and remove junk from searches, which is what makes it an invaluable tool. Alternative search portals

So, Million Short is more a discovery engine. It has received fairly decent reviews from the wired crowd and has about 200,000 monthly users. And it definitely isn't positioned as a challenger to Google. What it wants is to occupy a niche that allows users to find "obscure things."

In effect, Million Short has arrived with what is really a modest proposal: It just wants to become overlord of the underweb.


    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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