I see Google's CSE (Custom Search Engine) product as the new Directory 2.0. Until now, human-edited directories were the natural medium for users who wanted a human-optimized guide to the web. A CSE, however, combines the best aspects of a directory and a search engine. Users are now programmed to use search rather than navigating through a directory structure, but a search engine generally gives the user much more than she wants - including spam and non-relevant results. A directory is much more likely to supply the user with precise, relevant results, but she may have to follow a lengthy tree-structured path to arrive at those results. The CSE, however, can be tailored to a specific user-intent, utilizing only human-approved sources, brought together with the ease of a Google search box.
Now, rather than seeing the rise of niche, vertical directories, we may see a proliferation of niche, vertical CSEs. This could be an easy way for site publishers to give their users a valuable resource tailored specifically for them.
What happened when niche directories popped up everywhere? We saw a need for a Directory of Directories, and those became popular sites. Now, with the possibility of a huge CSE market, we will now need a Directory of CSEs. Luckily, we already have one available to us at CustomSearchGuide.com. I spoke on the phone this morning with Eric Enge, the VP of Marketing and co-founder of Custom Search Guide, and he was kind enough to give me a demo walkthrough of the site.
This directory of CSEs enables publishers to get their CSE reviewed and listed in the appropriate category (which Custom Search Guide reviewers currently assign), giving the publisher exposure for his CSE to a larger audience. In addition, Custom Search Guide users (and editors) can rate each listed CSE, and the higher-rated CSEs naturally get better exposure than the rest. So if you are a spammer, intent on getting a lot of exposure for your cheesy CSE that only lists your own spammy sites, you should probably find somewhere else to hawk your wares. Users will quickly prevent you from gaining exposure on Custom Search Guide (if you even make it past the CSG reviewers in the first place).
So, the Custom Search Guide can provide a nice synergy between human-reviewed directory listings, niche searching, and user ratings that should, theoretically, provide users with a rich, contextual experience that takes another step towards providing relevant results aimed directly at user-intent. Both CSE publishers and CSE users gain a nice benefit from this guide. If you want to know more about CSE's, Custom Search Guide has two helpful pages - What is a CSE? and Creating Quality CSEs. These helpful guides are great if you are thinking of creating your own CSE, as the more you understand what it is, and how to create one that is all about quality, the better chance you stand of having it become a valuable, well-linked, oft-visited resource on your site. And that's what it's really all about.
Now I'm off to create my own CSEs for each of my niche topics, using my expertise on the subjects to hand-pick quality sources of information to be included. I can't wait to give my users another excellent reason to visit my sites. Once that's done, I'll submit them to Custom Search Guide as a first step in the marketing process of my new content.