Friday, July 29, 2011

Search Engine Search

We take in a lot of data every day.  News from the radio, television, newspapers, magazines or the Internet.  Conversations on Twitter, Skype, Facebook, chat rooms and in physical space.  And search engines.

I found wildly conflicting statistics as to the actual numbers, but I think it's clear that Google is the most popular search engine in the world, and in the US it is still far ahead of Yahoo and Bing.  (Although Bing now provides the search results for Yahoo.) 

Google is a very good search engine.  I started using it back in 1998 or 1999 after a friend mentioned it.  The results were useful--or in other words, it was better than the other engines at finding what I was looking for.

But I worry about using a single source of data in all of my searches.  I realize that Google is simply providing me with a list of links or images to click on, but their algorithms are choosing what I pick from.  I spent some time looking at the other engines currently available, not because I'm dissatisfied with Google, but just because I am wary of using a single source.  (To be open about it, I use Google's Blogger tool to make this blog and I use their Gmail service for email.)

So what other choices are out there? There are aggregate type engines like dogpile.com, webcrawler.com (both run by Infospace) and www.duckduckgo.com that pull results from other engines and combine them.  In dogpile's 'About' page they say their studies showed that "88.3% of top search results were unique to one of four major search providers," and that, "only 11.7% were shared by two to four of the major search providers."

However, a look at that study reveals it is dated 2007 and uses results from 2005.  Since companies are constantly working to improve their algorithms, a study from 2007 is not up-to-date.  And when I search Bing, Yahoo and Google, the first page of results often look quite similar. 

There are also still traditional non-aggregate search engines like ask.com, lycos.com and teoma.com.  My buddy Patrick told me about wolframalpha.com, which describes itself as a "computational knowledge engine."  Wolfram is good at answering funny questions and Monty Python references, but for general searches I didn't find it helpful.  There is the Russian made yandex.com, which has a very clean interface.  And gigablast.com mentions right on its search page that its computers are run by 90% wind energy.  Its search button is even labeled "search green."

So there are other options out there beyond the big three of Google, Bing and Yahoo.  If you aren't happy with your search results, or you're like me and worry that too much of your information comes from one source, try a few of these engines out.  (I like to rotate through a half dozen engines, like a baseball team rotates pitchers.)

(I tried a few test searches on most of these engines and read several "About" pages, but I am not claiming this is a complete overview or a scientific test.)

(The pic is from:northx.wordpress.com)

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