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Retrevo: a Google for Gadgets

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|DRC| Iceman

Wednesday, October 18 2006, 20:55:37 #37104     Retrevo: a Google for Gadgets


Consumer electronics junkies now have a search engine to call their own.

I took some time to test out the new search tool Retrevo this morning. The search service claims to make finding relevant product reviews, troubleshooting tips, and price comparisons easier. It's a niche search engine that serves the gadget and electronics crowds.

My first question (which is always my first question when I'm testing some new search service) was this: why not just use Google? There are two reasons to use Retrevo instead of the more popular engines.

First, Retrevo concentrates on reviews and articles about products, not storefronts. If you're searching for more information about a specific product, Retrevo will only show you editorial reviews, comments, blog posts and forum posts about the product. It weeds out hits from storefronts like Amazon, BestBuy and the like. You also don't get any ads, eBay pages or auto-generated spam blog hits. The second reason is the sleek dual pane interface. Search results appear on the left and a preview pane appears on the right. The panes are re-sizable, so you can comfortably browse through the returned pages and read the reviews without ever leaving your stack of search results. This functionality isn't anything new (see Snap for a similar search interface), but Retrevo's implementation is clean and fast.

The product search results can be filtered manually as well. Retrevo offers separate tabs for reviews from publications, reviews from forums and blogs and manufacturer pages. I noticed that during a few searches for Sony's MDR-D66 headphones, forum posts were mixed in with the editorial reviews even when the "Reviews & Articles" filter active. This is probably due to the fact that many editorial sites open up their reviews to comments, and some of those comment forums are within domains that also serve editorial content.

If those reasons are compelling to you, then Retrevo is worth a visit. However, any Google "power user" isn't going to find anything all that groundbreaking in Retrevo. I've noticed a trend among most of the alternative search products popping up. Retrevo and sites like Healthline, ChaCha, Clusty and FirstGov serve the users who aren't skilled Googlers. Search users with ninja-like research skills can find just about anything they're looking for if given enough time and relevant information. However, the rest of the web population can get lost quickly, so that's where services like Retrevo come in handy.

One sticking point is the fact that Amazon product pages, which are buried by Retrevo, often have some very useful user-generated consumer electronics reviews. The lesson here is that Retrevo is a supplemental tool for electronics review searches, not the only tool. At least, not yet -- the product is still very young, and everything else about the service is promising.

I should also throw some usability bonus points at Retrevo. The site is faster and easier to use than most of the alternative or niche search engines out there. Check out the company's help page for more help using Retrevo's features.
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