Aesop.com wasn't always a search engine: until April 2001, it was the homepage for the Aesop Marketing Corporation, the internet marketing business operated by Mark Joyner. Aesop Marketing specializes in "viral" and "guerilla" marketing technologies, and markets mostly to non-technical business owners who are doing their own web marketing. Other Aesop ventures include StartBlaze, ExitBlaze and ROIbot. If you've never heard of those three, you probably skipped that stage of webmaster evolution.
After spidering the web for only four months, Aesop was transformed into a search engine with a small burst of orchestrated hype that included a a self-congratulatory press release and a hysterically bad interview of Joyner by Robin Nobles. In both the press release and the interview, Aesop's make out the engine to be the Next Big Thing. Unfortunately, testing Aesop reveals it's not even as good as the current Big Things.
Despite the hype, there's nothing particularly interesting, innovative, or even competant about the Aesop search engine. It is, in nearly all respects, a underwhelmingly average display of technology.
Aesop's search box is as simple as they come: Enter some text and hit the button. There are no advanced options at all: No booleans, no phrase matching, no anything. Even changing the order of words doesn't change Aesop's results.
The search results are similarly predictable. The lead results are pages that have negotiated preferred placement, usually by adding Aesop's META. Next come pages that match all of the words searched for. (Aesop indexes the full text of each page, not just the HEAD.) The rest of the results are pages containing any of the searched-for words. Except for adding icons to the listings using their META tag, Aesop doesn't do anything to differentiate the three classes of results. Aesop.com doesn't cluster multiple results from one site, so a site that's submitted a lot of pages can easily overwhelm the results.
Each result listing in Aesop includes the page's title, URI, and the first couple of hundred characters of text on the page.
Aesop.com doesn't say how big its web index is, but Joyner claimed (in the Nobles interview) that the index was only five million URIs in July 2001. That's about a third of a percent of what Google had indexed at the time, but it represents six months of work by Aesop's crawler. Even if Aesop was actively crawling the web (it isn't), it's got an incredibly small database compared to Google, Alltheweb, or even Teoma.
Aesop really was spidering parts of the Web (using the bot aesop_com_spiderman), but seems to have stopped sometime in 2001. Currently the only known way to enter a site into Aesop's databse is the Aesop submission form. (They do require an e-mail address for submissions, but they don't use it for anything after submission.) Submitted pages are retrieved by "lwp-trivial/1.34". Aesop does not currently index anything except a directly submitted page, and doesn't appear to re-index listed sites: Webmasters with large or changing sites have to submit all the pages on a site individually, and resubmit them after updates.
As explained in Robin Noble's interview with Mark Joyner, Aesop gives preferred placement in search results for two things: Adding Aesop's meta tag to a page, and adding an Aesop search box.
Contrary to what Noble believes, Aesop's proprietary META tag is anything but revolutionary. Everyone from Geocities to SearchBC has tried using self-categorization tags, and everyone has failed. Aesop's tag is not going to accomplish anything the other half-dozen haven't. On the other hand, Aesop's database is so small, that adding their tag is almost a guarantee of first-page placement.
(Curiously, a lot of the "iconned" results in Aesop lead to pages that don't have the Aesop META. That probably means a lot of webmasters are removing the tag after their site is indexed, but it might that Aesop's a sucker for page-cloaking, or that there's a second, unknown way to get an iconned listing.)
To my mind, the biggest question about Aesop.com is "Where do its users come from?" The probable answer? They're Mark Joyner's customers. Joyner has a history of heavily cross-promoting his various services, often one to steer traffic to another. (Aesop.com already has prominant placement on StartBlaze.) While cross-promotion is generally a common and useful business practice (Ask AOL Time-Warner), it's got limits when used to market similar services to a narrow customer base. Most of Joyner's customers are webmasters interested in trafic-building and traffic-tracking, and they're probably the most common users of Aesop.com.
I'm having real trouble figuring out why Aesop.com even exists, let alone where it's headed. Contrary to Joyner's well-oiled hype, Aesop doesn't present anything innovative or worthwhile. It's got a small index, simplisting results, and no mindshare. I don't know anybody who wants to use an engine like Aesop.com.
Given that most of Mark Joyner's businesses are about increasing or tracking traffic, one would naturally assume Aesop.com exits for similar reasons. Except for cross-promoting on this other sites, Joyner hasn't promoted Aesop's search engine since its debut. It's hard to believe he's generating serious traffic (or making money) for anybody with Aesop.com.
Joyner might just have a portal-building fetish. He's already tried (and failed) twice to create an Internet-traffic center with WebsMostClicked and WebsMostLinked.com. Both of those sites are closed now, and I suspect Aesop.com will join them as soon as Joyner admits it's failed to make a mark on the world.
Submitting a site to Aesop is harmless, but probably not worth the effort. Searching Aesop.com is definitely not worth the effort, given its small database size. Despite Mark Joyner's hype-filled pronouncements, Aesop is not a contender in the search engine wars.