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Mahalo introduces Follow: Continuous search

At Gnomedex this afternoon, Mahalo, the human-filtered search engine, introduced an intriguing new feature called Follow. Combining Mahalo's clever use of topical experts to build search result pages with website keywords and search technology, Mahalo Follow offers two key features: First, operating as a Firefox add-on (support is on the way for more browsers), Follow will piggyback on queries you enter into any search engine and display Mahalo results in a sidebar if Mahalo has a search page for your query. While Mahalo only has 8,500 search result pages built right now, Mahalo Follow's second and more significant feature is really where the genius lies: In addition to comparing their search results with the likes of Google, or Yahoo!, the sidebar will follow along on your surfing (hence its name) and continue to provide relevant results and links based on the sites you surf to. In fact, Follow has a feature I haven't seen done (at least quite the same way) anywhere else: within the Follow results sidebar, the 'Open all' option at the top of each section of links will open every one of those links in tabs. It's like having your own personal search secretary sitting right by your side, continually providing increasingly fine-toothed results without you having to lift a finger; all you need to do is search and browse.

I had the chance to speak with Jason Calacanis, founder of both Mahalo and Weblogs, Inc. (this blog's parent company) yesterday about Follow, and I have to admit that I think they're on to something pretty interesting here. Again, Mahalo's search results are nowhere near as comprehensive as most search engines when it comes to every niche subject you can think of to search on, but that isn't the point. The Mahalo staff uses various tools, custom data and techniques to stay on top of as many subjects as the company can expand to handle competently (and their surging growth, according to Calacanis, has been pretty surprising even to them), and it is in this area where Mahalo Follow shines. In fact, I'll dare to say that uniting Mahalo's human-filtered database in real time with the searches and surfing you're doing could be the next big thing in search.

As you can see, the Mahalo Follow add-on installs a toolbar in Firefox (which you can disable if you want it out of your way) which I'll expand on later. The sidebar of searches you see actually remains hidden until you perform a search at seemingly any engine or even via the search box next to the address bar. I searched for 'digital cameras' in Google, and since Mahalo has their own search results page for this topic, the sidebar kicked into action, displaying their results right alongside Google's. Through this initial action, many of Mahalo Follow's strong features are revealed. First: the sidebar groups links that Mahalo chose for this topic into relevant categories and groups, such as Digital Camera Manufacturers, a Comparison Shopping category that lists the top price watching sites and a Buying Guides and Reviews section. This makes that Open All feature especially handy, since you can open, say, the most popular digital camera guide and review sites in separate tabs with a single click. Now it's time for that searching secretary to kick in.

Choosing to click, the Mahalo Sidebar stays right in step, evaluating keywords in the page I'm viewing and updating itself immediately to provide more fine-toothed information related to what I'm probably looking for: some kind of a digital camera. Follow is now offering links specifically categorized by different kinds of cameras, namely Digital Cameras, Digital SLR Cameras and even Camcorders. From here I can keep browsing Consumer Reports and bring my handy secretary along for the ride, or I can launch into another Mahalo-provided search into one of these more in-depth categories.

This is really the bread and butter of Mahalo Follow, and so far I'm pretty impressed. For the topics Mahalo is on top of, links are presented quickly in the sidebar, and having results both categorized and continually updated according to what users are searching for feels like the first tool that really figured out how to leverage that '6 degrees of separation' aspect of the web. It'll be interesting to see how this evolves as Mahalo's database and user base grow.

Speaking of evolution, part of Mahalo Follow's toolbar is targated at allowing users to recommend - or turn down - sites they surf to that Mahalo hasn't added to their database yet. Part StumbleUpon, part 'wisdom of the crowds,' this could be a big boost to Mahalo's evolution as a human and user-filtered search tool - as long as users actually bother to click those buttons, of course.

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All things considered, Mahalo is still a small site that has quite a bit of growing to do. This new Mahalo Follow feature, however, feels like a natural, smart extension to what they're doing; like an organic answer to 'the algorithm' that is so vital to automated search. We'll just have to wait and see if this all catches on as Mahalo grows into its potential. If you'd like to try Mahalo Follow for yourself, point Firefox to, install the add-on and start searching. Feel free to let us know what you think in the comments.

Tags: Mahalo, Mahalo Follow, MahaloFollow, news, search