Exploring the Search Engine Path Less TraveledThe vast majority of internet users will use a search engine occasionally, if not frequently. Search engines are routinely included in browsers, no matter if you use Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera, or Netscape, with the intent of saving the user time.
It may seem odd to talk about saving time on the internet. Thinking back to 15 years ago, the internet was just starting to burst into mainstream America. The speed and reach of the internet was mind-boggling at that time. Now we've come so far with the technology that we actually find ourselves wanting better and faster results.
As is true with nearly all technology, the internet has evolved to be something much different than it was 5, 10, and certainly 15 years ago. But have internet users evolved in the way they use the internet?
We know that humans are creatures of habit. Most of us like to do what we're familiar with, see who we already know we get along with, and go places we already know we like. I think it's fair to say that the same can be applied to our internet habits.
New programs, applications, and websites are constantly being created and marketed to users. The ones that get a lot of media attention have a good chance of getting users to at least test them out, even if it's just on a trial basis.
However, there are other sites on the internet that have been around but aren't getting the attention they deserve. Let's go back to search engines. Most people are familiar with the "Big Three" of engines - Yahoo, MSN, and Google. If you've paid attention to web trends over the years, you know that each has had their heyday, with Google probably receiving the most attention in recent years.
This is a good illustration of the fact that what is popular one year on the web may be at the bottom of the list the next year. Does anyone remember when www.webcrawler.com or www.excite.com were touted as the destination search engine? It's all a part of the natural evolution and progression of search engines.
Another evolution of the search engine is the creation of the meta search engine. Meta search engines are similar, in that you type in a term or phrase to be searched. The meta search engine then gathers results from several different search engines, compiles them, and presents them in its own search results page.
The results from a meta search engine will vary, depending on which other engines the meta engine is pulling from. www.Dogpile.com, for instance, pulls results from Google, Yahoo!, MSN, www.Ask.com, www.About.com, www.MIVA.com, www.LookSmart.com, and others. This quickly accomplishes what would take a user much more time to open all those browser windows and type in the same search term over and over again.
However, Dogpile does receive criticism for its compiled search results page. The sponsored results are mixed in with the "real" results, which can be confusing if you're not paying attention. It's also hard to believe that the search results are in any particular order of relevance when broken up with those sponsored results.
Another search engine, www.Widow.com, uses a tried and tested algorithm to compile its results and then order them in relevance, without sponsored results. When doing a side-by-side comparison of the five top search engines (Yahoo, MSN, Google, AOL, and Fastsearch), you'll see that Widow.com comes up with not only the most highly ranked results, but some very useful links that the other engines didn't pull.
To illustrate my point, I looked at how the different search engines handle a specific search word. If we take a term that has been in the news a lot lately, "foreclosure", and type that in to different search engines, we'll see different results.
Not surprisingly, Fastsearch had no results on "foreclosure." Though it is one of the top search engines, its focus is on business and information technology. So it's really not going to be relevant for anything beyond those topics.
All of the other search engines (five of them!) had one or more sponsored results at the top of the page. Dogpile.com, as I previously warned you, had the most sponsored ads - an astounding 10 sponsored ads on the first results page. Plus, they're all mixed in with the other results, with just a note at the bottom to let you know it's an ad or otherwise paid for result.
The only search engine that returned no sponsored results or ads was Widow.com. It sorted through the results, performed its algorithm magic, and produced variety and depth in its results page. Better yet, Widow has a nifty search term bar on the left hand side that allows you to pull up search results for related terms. Talk about saving time and energy!
Of course, the main reason search engines were developed was because the internet is so expansive. No human can search the entire web on their own, hoping to stumble upon the answers and information they're seeking. Search engines are tools to help users find pertinent information in a timely manner.
Taking a traditional approach to search engines is fine if you have the time, the motivation, and the desire. Sometimes the best drives are the ones where you only have a vague destination, right? So I suppose the same can be true of using one of the top five engines we've mentioned.
But sometimes, thinking outside of the box, can not only inspire new ways of thinking, but can help push you or your research in a different, better direction. The most efficient way to do that is to utilize a meta search engine. Try stepping outside of your usual search strategies and see for yourself why it "is" sometimes greener on the other side of the fence. There's a whole wide world (web) to discover and explore!