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New Search Engines Better than Google?

September 2008

Heresy. Better than Google? Yes, there are some search engines that may be better than Google.

Take SearchMe. The first time I tried it I was stunned. It completely rethinks the way that search results are presented. Instead of returning a list of links, it returns images of the pages themselves. The pages scroll into view horizontally, as if on a carousel. You drag a slider bar at the bottom to flip through the pages. It’s almost identical to the Cover Flow feature in Apple’s latest operating system. You have to see it to believe it.

The great advantage of this is that you don’t have to tediously click on each link in the search results to get a sense for what’s on the page that will be returned. The whole page is already there. You can quickly scan dozens of pages to see if they contain the information that you’re interested in.

Especially if you’re searching on a general topic, such as “canoe” or “iphone,” SearchMe is a great way to zip through a bunch of pages to find web sites of interest. You can literally zoom through them as they spin past on the screen.

You can search the web, or you can limit your search to videos or photos. The video search is really cool. Again, the results appear as a sort of carousel that you can spin horizontally on your screen. Then if a video strikes your fancy, you can actually play it right there in the SearchMe. In fact, if you pause on any video, it automatically starts to play.

A really neat feature is Stacks, which allows you to create a category that interests you, say “canoes,” and then you can collect websites, photos, and videos into that category just by dragging and dropping. You can then reference that stack later — and share it with others.

Cuil (pronounced “cool”), an effort by Google expatriates, launched recently with fanfare and immediately crashed. But it’s got a lot going for it, most notably the claim that its database is three times larger than Google’s.

Beyond that, it has the nice feature of returning results in three columns, so that you can see more at a glance. I find that the capsule descriptions, which often also include images, give me a better idea of each result than Google does. Cuil also, like Google, indicates related searches. And like SearchMe, also indicates relevant categories.

Cuil says that unlike Google, it doesn’t rely on a site’s popularity to determine its rank in the results. Rather, Cuil “searches for and ranks pages based on their content and relevance.”

Still, a big weakness of Google, Cuil, and SearchMe is that it’s a computer that’s deciding which links should be served up in response to a query. But interestingly, there are some search engines nowadays that use people.

ChaCha is the most striking. Every time you ask a question, there’s a human on the other end who searches information and returns a relevant answer. It’s exclusively available to you via a cell phone. You either call 800-2ChaCha (800-224-2242) or send a text message to 242242 with your question, and one of their Guides does a quick search and sends you a text message with the answer.

ChaCha works best with specific questions, such as, What is cytoplasm? What is the weather in Naples, Florida? What was last weekend’s Bengals game final score? Where is a great Italian restaurant in Manhattan? It has to be a question that can be answered within the 160-character limitation of a text message.

Wikia Search is, like Wikipedia, a search engine that anyone can edit. If this ever catches on, it could be as useful as Wikipedia itself. When you do a search, you can edit the results, deleting some adding others, and giving ratings so that your favored results move up toward the top. The next person who does the search, will see your edited version of the search results.

Mahalo is a search engine that contains only those links that Mahalo staff members think are most useful to searchers. It focuses on areas where traditional search engines struggle, such as products, travel, cars, and health, because these search results are typically cluttered with people selling things.

Are these new search engines better than Google? Maybe. It depends on your needs. In any case, it seems likely that Google will eventually emulate some of the best features.

© 2008 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D

E-mail Jim Karpen