Searching for the right search engine

It's good to know that you will never be stranded in foreign lands without access to a search engine.

Jun 1st, 2003

Regular readers of this column will recall that I periodically have done an idiosyncratic review of Web search engines. It's that time again—so here we go. You may also recall that I have long been a habitual user of Google. I still am and I offer no apologies. Google is as good as they get and then some with the relatively recent addition of Google News. The latter section was particularly valuable during the recent hostilities in Iraq. I much prefer to pick and peruse my own news rather than watching 10 cable news channels doing all-war-all-the-time and the attitude seems to be "let's throw the news reports at the wall and see what sticks there." But I digress.

So I kicked off with Google and just for the heck of it, I did a search on "search engines." Google returns 10 items at a gulp plus a grouping of "sponsored links" clearly so-labeled and segregated in the right-hand column. Rightfully so. Google took 0.12 seconds (or so they claimed) to search their three billion (who's counting?) web pages to return the first 10 of about 4 million page references (who's counting?).

Top of Google's gaggle of web sites was the unfortunately-named "Dogpile." In case you haven't checked out this cutesy canine cruncher, Dogpile is a meta-search engine, which is programmer jargon for "we let the other dogs bark for us." That is to say that Dogpile collects a pile of stuff from several leading search engines, notably Google, Overture, Ask Jeeves, Looksmart, Inktomi, About, FindWhat, and FAST and spits it all out in one fell swoop. Your choosy canine companion actually "fetches" (cute, that) these piles from some five of these choice engines. As you might expect, there's a fair amount of overlap in the results. And Arfie (Dogpile's cheesy canine cartoon character) doesn't tell you which of the sites are commercially sponsored on their original engines. The answer is most of them. Caveat emptor.

Second up on my Google search engine search was searchenginewatch.com. This site calls itself "the authoritative guide to searching the Internet." It appears to be edited by one Danny Sullivan who, in turn, appears to be associated with Jupitermedia, a sort of Nielsen market research outfit of the Internet world. I have to give a tip of the editorial hat to Danny-boy—he runs a very interesting site that kept me from writing this column for several hours. You have to understand that I am the archetypal net-surfer and I rarely pause on a given page for more than a minute. So go check Danny's site out.

Jumping straight to number 10 on my original Google search engine search, I found a site named "Search Engines Worldwide" (www.twics.com/~takukawa/search/search.html). Believe it or not, this site lists more than 3000 (yes, you read it right, 3000) search engines listed by country. The list started with Afghanistan (four search engines!) and ended with Zimbabwe (two search engines). It's good to know that you will never be stranded in foreign lands without access to a search engine. Just out of morbid curiosity, I checked on Iraq—14 search engines, of which two still had pictures of Saddam Hussein in their banners (this in late April). Oddly enough, most of the Iraqi sites were in English and were not based in Iraq. And, no, they had no information on the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein and his sons.

I warned you that this was going to be an idiosyncratic survey. However, I actually did a serious search on "optoelectronics" on the leading web sites (as noted by Nielsen) and there was little to choose between the top three—Google, MSN, and Yahoo. I guess I would rank Yahoo slightly higher than the other two because it gave more links (20 plus six sponsors) at a first page. I also found Yahoo easier to read. Dogpile you have to decide for yourself but I'd rather stick with the originators.

As for the rest—AOL, Ask Jeeves, Overture, Lycos, AltaVista, InfoSpace, and Netscape—there's little to choose between them. Check out what Danny Sullivan has to say about the seven dwarves on his site and in his e-mail newsletter. Happy hunting!

Jeffrey Bairstow
Online Editor
jbairstow@pennwell.com

More in Research