Rick Muenyong is throwing a party for himself, or rather, for his new baby, Ranks.com (www.ranks.com) - a new search engine that he hopes will eventually provide "the perfect plug-in for the big search engines."
That's in the future, however. Today, February 1, 2001, is Ranks.com official birth day, and Muenyong, an Internet porn veteran at the peach-fuzzy age of 24 (he looks 16), has invited a smattering of friends and neighbors to his meticulous suite of offices in Diamond Bar, California, to celebrate over cake and soda as he demonstrates his simple brainchild.
We use the term "simple" literally, not pejoratively. The underlying premise of Ranks.com is that simplicity is preferable when it comes to searching the Net. "We built the concept because I have a damn hard time using all the search engines that are out there right now," Muenyong tells his audience. "The results that you get from search engines like Excite, HotBot or AltaVista will give you results based on the classifications of the sites' metatags, which means that you search for something and it searches the site. In other words, the site owner controls where you are going, because the site owners can do anything they want, put any key word in their site. You are now dependent upon them accurately classifying their Website for you to get where you want to get. That's not how the Internet should be, in my opinion. Yahoo! and The Open Directory Project (dmoz) are the big indexes of the Internet. We're going to go a step further than that by cutting out the fat. I'd say that out of the 500,000 to a million sites that Yahoo! and dmoz list, we're breaking it down to about 2,500 sites total for right now."
But limiting the number of categorized sites is but one aspect of what Muenyong says makes Ranks.com so different and hopefully more attractive for the average Web surfer. "The big search engines don't do their job because they're sending you to sites that are not classified," he said. "They're not humanly judged; they're computer-judged. It's all technology that's doing the work. But the Internet should be indexed properly.
"Ranks.com is essentially everything that we think you guys need to surf the Internet more efficiently. The comparison that I like to use is that it's like a supermarket. You don't go shopping and see every possible product there is to buy ever made at every price. You'll never find that. Supermarkets have a long process to select the proper items for you to buy. The supermarket is a good example of [the model] Ranks.com uses for the Internet. Ranks.com is a supermarket for the Internet, so you can browse the Net and find the best sites, discovering categories you never knew existed."
In fact, the supermarket analogy may not be the best one. This writer has actually had some experience in that industry and knows firsthand how difficult (if not impossible) it is to get one's product on the shelves without greasing certain palms. It's the grocery game's dirty little secret. A similar, though significantly less corrupt, practice is now occurring in the world of the big search engines, which now charge webmasters up to $700 to have their sites considered for placement. Sites that don't pay will be considered, but it may take several months for that to happen.
Muenyong is assiduously avoiding such crass behavior. If anything, his is the gourmet market of search engines, where each category and each site within that category is hand picked according to specific parameters. "The criteria are very simple," he said. "It's unique for each category. We have a ten-point list where we look at the content, originality and ease of navigation, among other things. But it's based upon what I think is a good site compared to a bad site. My editors have been trained so that they can go to a site and usually instantly know if it's going to qualify for Ranks.com."
According to Juliet Lowrie, founder of Digital Organics, a company that builds and maintains a number of top adult Websites, "Ranks.com is great because it lists the cr�me de la cr�me of sites. You don't need to list every site, just the best, and Rick has worked hard to find them."
But listing a limited number of sites implies an inevitable superficiality. What happens when you're looking for something specific? For instance, we typed in "Trojan War" and nothing came up. "Ranks.com is never going to go that deep," said Muenyong. "Instead, we're going to bring in the next best search engine. We're also going to plug the Open Directory Project into our search engine for searches that don't show up on Ranks.com. So if we don't give you a result, then we'll send you to dmoz, which is about at the same quality as Yahoo!. It'll basically act as if Ranks.com is providing those results."
As of deadline Ranks.com listed 357 categories ranging from "Money" to "School Subjects," and 3,287 individual sites. Muenyong said he plans on adding about five categories every month. But he added, "I don't want to get too long. We've got everything general enough. Faith sites. Wedding sites. Legal sites."
What about sex sites? The design of Ranks.com is decidedly family-friendly, and they are even developing an animated character, a sort of sexless creature named Easy Pete, to help with branding. When we visited the offices, the Adult category was on the home page. At deadline, there was a link to a disclaimer page and then to a page listing top adult sites and several sub-categories, such as Erotic Fiction and Specialty Stores. Another link on that page sends you to the 100 Top Erotic Sites.
But, as everyone reading this knows, or should know, a seemingly simple introduction to a hundred adult websites is really a mere preamble to that vast and endless universe we now call Internet porn.