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Searching With Sherlock Part 1 What Is It

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Martin Burns

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User since: 26 Apr 1999

Articles written: 143

Sherlock is a tool you can use to both help your own web productivity and drive visitors to your site. In this two part series, we'll be looking at what it is, and how your site can use it to help the stickiness of your site.

What is it?

Sherlock is an insanely great, and stupendously simple search tool which has been part of the MacOS for the last year or so. Let's start with the simple bits.

At its core is the ability to search search engines (or any site with a search engine) from your desktop by acting as a simple HTTP client, taking your query and bundling it off to some search engines. Simple, right? Trivial and pointless? Not quite.

The insanely great bit is that it lets you search more than one engine at once. In fact, you can search as many as you want at once. To help you get your head round that, imagine searching for (say) information about ecommerce on's list archive, our site, Slashdot, Altavista and Wired. Oh, and looking for books on it at Amazon. You'd have to go to each site, do a search on each one, take a note of the results and compile a list, ranking by relevance across all the searches. Hard work, right?

Or, you could just pop a query into the tool on your desktop, select where you want it to search (want to add Motley Fool for investment opportunities? It's one click away) and hit return. And presto, you get a single, ranked, list back. If you were just searching across shopping sites, you could even get the (say) books ranked by price or availability. Here's what it looks like:

Sherlock results

But what if you don't use a Mac? Is all this a waste of your time reading this far? Are you going to skip the rest of this series? No. Because you can drag Mac users to your site before the competition's by having a search of your site one simple keyboard shortcut away at all times.

Getting customers/users to consider your site is the heart of stickiness (or loyalty as non-Net marketeers call it) - if I'm looking for a book, I can search Amazon and Barnes&Noble's site from my desktop. Much as I like Fatbrain and BoL, I can't search them just by hitting command-F, so won't tend to go there unless the other two can't help.

And you can't take the position of "I don't get [m]any Mac users on my site", either. For a start, Mac users are amongst the highest users of the Net - it's what drove the success of the iMac. And sites do tend to have self-selecting user groups. If a site is unwelcoming to a group of users, they won't go there. And the reverse is true - if your site goes out of its way to make that same group feel like one in a million, they will come to you again and again. Rather than to

So how do you get your site listed by Sherlock? It's (fairly) simple. All you have to do is get your site's search engine working reasonably consistently (so it can be machine-parsed) and produce a plugin, which is a simple text file. We've already produced plugins for's two resources - you may have noticed the logo in the screenshot above. If you're into attracting more users to your site, I'll show you how they were put together in the second article of the series. If don't already have a Mac, I suggest you use the time until then to get access to one, as you'll need it to produce and test the plugin.

If you've already got a Mac with OS8.5 or higher, please do grab the plugins for thesite and thelist. Just drop the 2 files onto a closed System Folder, and they'll go in the right place.

Martin Burns has been doing this stuff since Netscape 1.0 days. Starting with the communication ends that online media support, he moved back through design, HTML and server-side code. Then he got into running the whole show. These days he's working for these people as a Project Manager, and still thinks (nearly 6 years on) it's a hell of a lot better than working for a dot-com. In his Copious Free Time™, he helps out running a Cloth Nappies online store.

Amongst his favourite things is ZopeDrupal, which he uses to run his personal site. He's starting to (re)gain a sneaking regard for ECMAscript since the arrival of unobtrusive scripting.

He's been a member of since the very early days, a board member, a president, a writer and even contributed a modest amount of template code for the current site. Above all, he likes to do things because it knowingly chooses to do so, rather than randomly stumbling into them. He's also one of the boys and girls who beervolts in the UK, although the arrival of small children in his life have knocked the frequency for 6.

Most likely to ask: Why would a client pay you to do that?

Least likely to ask: Why isn't that navigation frame in Flash?

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