Social Search Engine Volunia Faces The Critics
In a first look at the social search engine Volunia, I considered the main features which differentiate Volunia from existing search engines – and noted the steep road ahead faced by any new search engine.
Volunia founder, Massimo Marchiori, has said that one of the main reasons to launch Volunia now was to gather feedback from beta testers. I spoke with Marchiori to find out what Volunia has learned after a week of exposure to users and to understand where Volunia is headed. I also asked him about Volunia’s support for webmasters.
Volunia Users Say Search Result Quality & UI Need Improvement
About 400,000 users have signed-up to use Volunia of which, 100,000 were provided access in the first week. Access is being doled out slowly in order to manage server loads. The two primary criticisms leveled against Volunia by users have been regarding disappointing search results and, especially from design conscious Italians, the user interface.
Marchiori told me that the greatest problem with the search results is that Volunia has only indexed a small sample of the Web – about 1 million sites or 1% of all the websites worth indexing. The open directory, Dmoz, was used to seed the initial list of sites to crawl. Additional sites deemed important in their home countries were manually added to broaden international coverage.
Volunia planned to focus more of its initial resources on their social network features as that is where they believe to be providing the greatest innovation. As a result of user feedback, Volunia will also be working to improve the search engine index coverage sooner rather than later. The Volunia team, currently 10 people, some of whom only recently came on board, will also be revisiting the user interface.
A Solution Is On The Way For Incompatible Sites
Many users also noticed that some sites, including Google properties, Facebook and even Search Engine Land, are incompatible with Volunia’s social features menubar. Some sites reload without Volunia’s menu and others just doesn’t load.
In some cases, the behavior is deliberate on the part of the site owner – they don’t want others framing their content. Volunia is studying enhancements to their browser toolbars, available for Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer browsers (and found in the Addon menu), which should resolve these problems. For now, site owners could update their anti-framing logic to whitelist Volunia.
Friendship Crisis: Too Few Volunia Friends
Volunia users start with clean slate of friends, akin to leaving Kansas for Los Angeles or San Francisco to reinvent oneself. Many people have told Volunia that they want a way to upload their existing contacts, a feature Volunia aims to make available sooner rather than later.
Volunia does offer a people search function, but its usefulness depends in part on the completeness and privacy settings of a user’s profile. A people search based on email address, a little known Facebook feature, would be a nice touch.
What Webmasters Need To Know About Volunia
Volunia offers website owners the possibility to authenticate their site(s), similar to other search engines. Once this is done, the visual site navigation maps presented to Volunia users can be personalized by adding, moving, and / or deleting pages. Page names can also be changed. These names also appear in the Volunia chat window title – a point worth keeping in mind.
In the future, it should be possible for a site owner to regenerate the visual site map at different zoom levels should they want to revert any personalization. This functionality has apparently been developed but it hasn’t yet been enabled as Volunia prefers to ensure the features already deployed work well under increasing user loads before adding additional server overhead.
Volunia allows multiple users to authenticate a site. Each user who verifies a site will be added to the site information visible to users. No mechanism yet exists to revoke a user’s permissions – a point worth considering when deciding who can authenticate a site.
Modern search engines use links to discover and rank sites, so it isn’t normally necessary to submit sites to a search engine. Volunia site authentication will also add a site to a queue of sites to consider crawling, a type of site submission. This feature is apparently already in place but not yet enabled behind the scenes.
Site Promotion Tools
A share option within Volunia’s menubar allows users to promote a page they like on Facebook, Twitter, via email or by a link they can paste wherever they like. In an initial test, a link shared on Twitter brought me to Volunia’s home page, not the page I wanted to share. I was actually trying to determine what type of redirection was happening: i.e. will the shared links receive appropriate social signal credit from Google and Bing?
Volunia doesn’t yet offer an endorsement feature similar to Facebook’s Like and Google’s +1 but Marchiori acknowledged that a social service won’t be complete without one.
Volunia offers several plugins which allow site owners to embed Volunia features, such as the visual navigation map, directly into their sites. Unfortunately, as Volunia doesn’t allow anonymous users in the current test phase, the plugins will display a login form rather than the Volunia content. Its probably a bit premature to consider using these.
Volunia supports the robots exclusion protocol, known as robots.txt. Volunia’s crawler is called Voluniabot.If Volunia is crawling the site, Web server logs will contain the user agent:
Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Voluniabot/1.0; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Meta tags are not yet supported, nor is there support for sitemaps.org and schema.org protocols.
Keyword Tracking In Google Analytics & Similar Systems To Come
In the era of Google’s questionable decision to start reporting search query keywords for authenticated users as [not provided], I asked Marchiori about the possibility to supply user search query terms in URL parameters which could be recognized by existing web analytics systems.
He said they hadn’t initially planned on doing this as they thought they’d provide their own feedback to webmasters, but he agreed it would make sense to support compatibility with existing third party digital marketing measurement tools. On a related note, see how to track search query keywords from blekko.
Perhaps Volunia Could Better Manage User Expectations
During the launch presentation, Marchiori said that Volunia doesn’t aim to be a Google competitor – it sees itself as complementary to other search engines. The more I look into Volunia’s social network layer, the more I understand what he means.
For those who want to use Volunia’s social network features, i.e. interacting with others who are visiting a website page, but aren’t yet happy with Volunia’s search results, Marchiori told me they can use another search engine together with Volunia’s browser extension which allows a user to open Volunia’s menubar in any browser tab.
In my testing, I found a searcher can use Bing or blekko together with Volunia’s social menubar. Neither Google nor Yandex are usable due to the frame incompatibility issue mentioned earlier.
In our discussions, it was evident that Marchiori has a clear vision for Volunia’s future development and that he seems very keen on addressing issues raised by user feedback. I’m optimistic that Volunia can do well, providing it is able to attract the resources it will need to continue investing in product development.
Volunia has raised an initial €2 million in funding – an amount which pales in comparison to the $24 million in funding blekko had received by its launch, not to mention the additional $30 million blekko has received since. Potential competitor RockMelt has received $40 million yet their service only works in one browser which isn’t available for all computer platforms.
By announcing a beta test and implying power users would receive sign-in credentials on the launch day, Volunia set itself up for some criticism which probably could have been avoided. Volunia could have been better positioned as a working prototype in an early alpha test. Social media channels could have updated potential users regarding the progress of credentials distribution.
Now that Volunia has been able to unveil its vision for social search and social Web navigation, it should be better positioned to attract the additional funding necessary to increase server capacity, add to staffing and address external communications.
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