New search engines

November 2001

Search and you will find. Yah, right. The Internet is often very stingy when it comes to getting just what you want. Many people felt that Google was a real breakthrough when it appeared on the scene--finally a search engine that actually found what you wanted.

And happily, innovation continues. Let's take a look at some of the new tools that have come along this past year, two of which I mentioned in last month's tips.

I'm impressed with Albert. Like the Ask Jeeves web site, you can ask Albert a question using regular English, and the site will try to find web pages that have the answer.

I asked Albert, "What's the average temperature in Ankara in August?" The first item on the list was way off--a web page giving the average temperature in Florida. But the next three gave me exactly what I asked. Item four even had a weather map with the average temperatures in various regions in Turkey and a table that showed the major cities and the average temperature month by month.

I wondered how Jeeves would compare. Frankly, there was no comparison. Jeeves responded, as he always does, with more questions. The first of which was "What is the weather forecast for Ankara?" I clicked on that and arrived at Weather.Com, a slow site that required several more clicks before I could get the answer. Albert, which is really just a demo offered by a company that markets intelligent searching software, just seemed much better at ferreting out a specific answer.

But let me waffle here. As with every Internet tool, each has its strengths and weaknesses. Jeeves did a good job of immediately locating a general tool that I could use. And I think that that's its strength. Albert, in contrast, seems to simply be looking for a specific answer, wherever it might be found.

Another new search engine is Wisenut, which could well challenge the venerable Google. Like Google, it shares an important feature: they don't let companies pay for placement. You may not have realized that those items at the top of the results on some other search engines are there because someone paid for that position. Google and Wisenut hold fast to the notion that what appears up top are the resources that are the best.

Wisenut has copied Google's speed and clean design. I always test an engine by searching on my name, and Wisenut did a fine job of finding and categorizing the main areas where my work appears on the Internet--comparing somewhat favorably with Google in that regard. Wisenut claims to have one of the fastest methods for indexing the web and that its database is among the largest.

Wisenut also claims their search engine goes beyond providing people with the most popular pages on the web. Like Google it gives priority to those pages with lots of links to them. But in addition, when you enter keywords, Wisenut analyzes the words to determine whether the most popular sites are relevant for that search. Their philosophy is that the most popular sites may not be the most important.

Good search engines, but where do they get those names? Google? Wisenut? To that pantheon add SurfWax. At least that name is a bit more euphonious. This is a meta-search engine that I first discovered a few months ago, and it must certainly be among the best. A meta-search engine simply takes your query and sends it to a bunch of other search engines at one time.

Google isn't standing still in the face of this competition. It keeps adding excellent resources. It purchased the old discussion search engine DejaNews and made it better. It's called Google Groups, and you should definitely check it out.

Google has also recently adding image searching to its repertoire of search capabilities. The database indexes over 150 million images from the web. When you search on a term, say "butterfly," it returns a page of 20 small images, called thumbnails. The search results also provide information on the image size and the Internet address of the web page where the image was found. When you click on the thumbnail, it brings up a page that has a larger version of the thumbnail in a top frame and the original page in a bottom frame.

Use these search engines, and you indeed will find.

This month's hot tip:

This urban legends site dispels or verifies rumors related to events of September 11 <http://www.snopes2.com/rumors/rumors.htm.> (It says the Nostradamus prediction was a hoax.)

© 2001 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

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