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7/22/2003
05:14 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
Commentary
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The Explorer: Time To Change Search Engines?

Don't carry old online searching habits into the New Year!

The world of online searching has undergone enormous upheaval in the last year or so; if you haven't updated your search techniques, you're probably missing a lot. And what better time to change your search behavior that the start of a new year?

I've changed the way I search. For example, I used to be a huge fan of AltaVista's search because its Boolean capabilities were, at one time, unmatched. Then AltaVista sort of drove itself into the weeds when it -- along with many other search engines -- tried to become an all-purpose "Web portal" instead of just being a great search engine. AltaVista became harder and slower to use; and newer, more focused search engines left it in the dust.

I moved on to the "FAST Search" at All The Web; it's a hugely comprehensive listing of sites (almost 600 million URLs!) coupled with a lightning-fast engine and a minimalist, uncluttered front end.

More recently, I've also found myself using Northern Light because of the excellent job it does in rank-ordering its results. On the downside, it's starting to show some clutter in the way it presents search results.

I tried Google when it first appeared, and initially came away underwhelmed: It's a search engine that determines relevancy (in part) by the number of other sites that link to a given page; recursively also factoring in the relevancy of the sites providing the links. The assumption is that the more good sites that link to a given page, the better that page must be.

The obvious problem with this approach is that a stellar but largely unknown Web site may fare poorly in the Google ratings, while a lower-quality but better-known site will rise to the top.

Still, while the top-ranked results in a Google search may not always be the very best sites on a topic, they're almost always at least very good sites. Plus, the Google approach tends to be self-correcting over time. Cream really does rise to the top.

I now find myself using Google more and more for my initial searches, and falling back to All The Web or Northern Light for finer or alternate searches. But Google is good enough that it often gets the job done with the very first search, thus eliminating the need for secondary searches.

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