Searching for a Search Engine

by Terry Freedman, on Flickr

So I’ve gotten fed up with Google recently – not because it isn’t good, but because of all the ads, and their increasing monopoly of all our information. While I’ve also tried Yahoo, MSN search (Bing), Ask.com, Altavista, Lycos, and others, none of them are that great. So recently, I went looking to see if there’s anything new, and below are some of the more intriguing engines that I found. For each one, I tried searching for a mainstream topic (“anthropology”) and a more focused topic (the christian concept of “discipleship,” which I’d had trouble finding good information about on Google a week ago) to see how well the engines would handle these searches. And of course I put in my own name, just to “blekko” and “hakia” myself. The best and weirdest:

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Mahalo advertises that it has editors who curate basic information and popular searches, trying to add that ‘human element’ back into searches. I wasn’t that impressed with the searches – it seems like they wrote their own mini-article on “anthropology,” and I’m wondering why they couldn’t just link to something like Wikipedia’s basic English version. On a more interesting note — while they haven’t curated the topic of me, they did come up with an impressive set of links, images, and related blog posts. This may actually be more useful for people-stalking than google, because of the layout. Cute and nice interface, but not a lot of content yet. Score: 2/5.

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Blekko has promise but is currently clunky and unfulfilled. It tries to use “cloudsourcing” (i.e. everyone working together, like on Wikipedia) to improve search results (you can look at their “/about” page to see how this works). My searches produced decent results, but also came up with a lot of unsorted spam, which I think they expect users to sort through. I have no intention of taking time to do that. Filtering by /slashtags in also an interesting idea, but I’m still not sure exactly how it’s supposed to work. Perhaps this might get used, if some people invest a lot of time in sorting out search-spam. But dont we already sort and tag sites on places like delicious? Why do all this work on another site? 1.5/5.

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Yippy doesn’t have an exceptional search, but it has attractive visuals. My favorite is the “clouds” box on your left. When I searched for myself, I got the usual results, but categorized:

Anthropology (24)
Academia.edu (15)
Student (13)
Studies, Membership (8)
LinkedIn (4)
Regional (5)
School (5)
Media, Editor (4)
Facebook, Join (3)
Obituary (4)

That’s kind of handy! And don’t worry – so far the obituaries don’t pertain directly to me. “Discipleship” had a lot of relevants results as well, although “anthropology” felt a little more spammy with definitions and encyclopedia entries. Another nice feature is that it pulls results from Bing, Ask, and Yahoo!, noting which sites produced which results. Could be useful. 3/5.

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Hakia is my fave. It’s been called a “semantic search engine,” and separates findings by categories: wikipedia, web, credible (librarian-approved) sources, news publications, blogs, twitter, images, and videos. It only found me on its web section (*sad face*), but did well on both discipleship and anthropology, in giving a broad overview of what’s out there on the topic, and displaying it nicely. 4/5. This one stays on my list!

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I’m Halal is one I find charming simply because it’s an Islamic site and offers results by Islamic country and language. And it pulls up results for the three things you need to know in life: web sites, news, and the Qu’ran. Beautiful. 3/5.

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Omgili searches conversations on web-forums. It’s an interesting concept, but the layout is dizzying, and I have a hard time getting anything useful from chatter about broad topics like “anthropology.” This seems like it might be more useful for marketing/PR people to keep tabs on public opinion — at least if you like to be the creepy sort of lurker marketer who pops up to defend a product all over the web. It also might be helpful for those who want to be a more effective trolls/flamers. Interesting and specialized, but 2.5/5 for anything I can see needing.

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Stinky Teddy bills itself as “gossip driven” search. I put in our-recent-government-debacle-which-shall-not-be-named, and the buzz-o-meter was off the roof. Anthropology was also moderately active, but my name, sadly, was not. However, the only really useful feature I saw was the buzz-o-meter, and you can find stuff like that elsewhere. 1.5/5.

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Wolfram|Alpha is really quirky!

  • I put in ‘discipleship’ and got definitions.
  • I put in my birthdate and got stats for that day.
  • I put in math problems and got visual and textual answers.
  • I put in my hometown and got stats like population, location, house prices, and weather.
  • I asked it to translate срасибо from Russian, and got all sorts of stats on the Russian language. So no translations, apparently.
  • I put in ‘anthropology’ and got basic labor stats on our occupation.

This seems like a calculator, dictionary, and almanac all rolled into one. It’s a lot of fun, and I haven’t even explored everything that it does! Check it out. I’d give it a 1/5 for general search, but a 5/5 for its own specialities.

3 Comments

  1. Alpha is great! It is much of the computational power of Mathematica, a staple among many scientists, engineers, mathematicians. And it’s on the web for free! But search engine it is not. Great for computing stuff, but not scouring the web.

    • Yeah, that was my sense… but I love it for what it does and ran across it in a list of search engines…

      • I find it strange that it would be listed as a search engine. They describe themselves as a “computational knowledge engine”. Bit I’m glad you found it. Have fun with it!

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