What’s a safe way to find new websites you’re going to like? Based on websites you already like, of course. That’s what SimilarSites for Firefox does, and apparently it does it well enough to be featured on our list of Best Firefox Addons. But I’m here to take a closer look and see just how it performs in real life. To test it out, I am going to try it out on a number of websites I like and see if it comes up with interesting results.
When you first install Similar Sites for Firefox, it will open a new tab to show you where its button is; it will also plug a registry scanner and show an ad:
This is a bit annoying, but no big deal. The important part is the image showing the button for the addon… but it’s actually showing a thumbnail of Google Chrome rather than Firefox. Oops (the add-on is available for Chrome, too). Worry not, the button occupies the same spot in Firefox as well:
Now let’s test it out.
Big Sites: The Obvious Picks
To begin testing Similar Sites, let’s try some really big and obvious sites, like CNN.com. What sites would be considered similar to it? To find out, I just had to browse to CNN.com and click the coffee-bean like button (that’s what it looks like, right?). Here’s what Similar Sites had to say:
Well, that’s a very easy test, but Similar Sites delivers. News sources are a matter of personal taste these days, but the addon has no way to tell whether or not I like Fox News. All of the sites on the list were indeed from large, established news publishers. The concept feels similar to StumbleUpon, only it’s based on the specific website you are visiting at the moment.
Let’s ramp up the difficulty just a bit by looking at our very own MakeUseOf.com. With over ten million monthly visitors, MakeUseOf is not a small site, but it’s not quite CNN just yet either. Here’s what Similar Sites has to say:
Indeed, the usual suspects show up: Lifehacker and How-To Geek, but also Download Squad, a software blog that has been shuttered for years now. The link is outdated, and when you click it, you’re actually taken to the Huffington Post’s tech section. So, far from ideal. The other sites are fairly relevant.
Another interesting case is a subdomain of a large site, which works a bit like a medium website. I decided to try Similar Sites with an article on Time’s Health & Family section about healthy cooking methods and got very disappointing results:
So… SQL Server Central and Palm Grove Rentals are similar sites to Time’s Health & Family Section? I don’t think so.
With fairly relevant results from both the large and medium website categories, it is time to see how Similar Sites does with tiny, obscure websites. In this case, I’ve decided to try Similar Sites with Chompin’ Through Canberra, a tiny personal blog that I found on page 25 of Google’s search results for the term “Chia pet.” And yes, there’s a chia pet on that page — a Homer Simpson, to be exact. And… surprise, surprise:
Similar Sites came up with absolutely nothing. To me, this is actually a good result. I much prefer this to a bunch of barely-relevant results that the Firefox addon feels compelled to add just to have something on the page. If it has nothing good to show, it shows nothing. That makes sense.
When clicking the Similar Sites button, results usually showed up within seconds… except for when they didn’t:
I got this blank screen with the spinning logo more than once when trying to obtain results for MakeUseOf.com. This would not have been a major pain had it not been for one annoying feature: Similar Sites closes out as soon as you click away from the pane. In other words, the only thing you can do when waiting for the addon to load similar sites is just that: wait, staring at the screen. This did not happen every time, but it did happen occasionally.
Similar Sites is a useful addon, but can’t hold a candle to a search engine (be it Google, Bing, or even DuckDuckGo). It stays out of the way and gets the job done, and is relatively free of ads and annoyances. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to power-users, who may already know most of the large sites in the niches they’re interested in. Novice users, or users making their first steps in a new field of interest, may find it helpful.
What about you? Do you think it’s a useful addon, or would you prefer a tool that always offered results, even for tiny websites?