What’s the Latest with Search Engines These Days?
by Gary J. Wolff
Having trouble finding what you’re looking for? Getting upset because you can’t? Don’t despair……….you’re not alone.
Contrary to what some folks would have you believe, the Internet is growing. According to research released in August by Lawrence Roberts, one of the pioneers of the Internet, cyberspace data traffic has been doubling every six months. This in turn is fueling huge growth in the volume of material on the Web, which makes it hard for search engines and other outfits that try to index the information to keep up.
The result: Web Rage, where users quickly get frustrated looking for what they want. In January, Internet consulting firm Roper Starch Worldwide concluded that users get angry after only 12 minutes of searching.
Some of this anger is understandable. It is a huge digital world out there and it is pretty daunting. Google, reckoned by many to be the biggest, baddest search engine around, claims to index more than 1.4 billion Web pages. But some folks who have been around longer than they are willing to admit can recall how hard it was to find anything pre-Internet, or before the user-friendly Web interface came along and made arcane search programs such as the Gopher obsolete. Lycos, InfoSeek and others battled early on for consumers' eyeballs. Then, in 1998, Google arrived and proved that there was room for a better mousetrap.
OK, there are a lot of pages out there, but if I run a search on Google for a cake recipe (Battenburg, for example) I get 103 hits in 0.19 seconds. The first on the list was right on the money.
So, the first piece of advice: keep some perspective. Type in a sensible range of words for what you are looking for and don't expect search engines to be rocket scientists. Google is probably the best, but there are others: AllTheWeb, for example, returns 95 matches for the Battenburg recipe almost as soon as I had finished typing the request. Another recent enhancement to web searching is the Google toolbar, which settles in the menu part of Internet Explorer -- it doesn't work with other browsers -- lets you enter searches without having to jump to the Google home page.
And if you are looking for more than brute-force searches, there are some interesting alternatives: Oingo, from Applied Semantics, uses technology that finds cultural links between words. The results are presented in a grid that shows category matches as well as direct text matches. Wisenut does much the same thing, as does Vivisimo. I have tried all three, but prefer the latter.
DISTURBING NEW DEVELOPMENTS
Clearly someone believes search engines still will make money, or there wouldn't be so many new ones coming online. Indeed, here is something that may further confuse users: the arrival of cost-per-click searching (abbreviated to CPC). According to a report from Wired News, some of these new search engines are generating cash by accepting paid listings to get sites mentioned above the others when a surfer enters a search phrase. So, entering "Battenburg cake recipe" on one of these engines could, in theory, throw up matches that would lead me to commercial sites selling cake ingredients or tours of Battenburg, the town. Those commercial sites would then pay a few cents to the search engine depending on where they are placed in the listing. A nice little money-maker for the search engine, but not necessarily what I'm looking for if I want to bake a cake.
Another problem with these CPC search engines is that it isn't always clear who they are. Ah-ha is one, as is SearchBoss; both will jiggle the search results according to which commercial sites are willing to pay up for prime space. We can understand that search engines are, like every other dot-com venture, governed by money, but their argument that such sponsorship helps consumers by leading them to the most commercially viable sites, seems dishonest. More importantly, it blurs the line between a search and a sales pitch. It is a bit like asking a ticket scalper outside a sports stadium where you can buy legitimate tickets. You don't exactly trust his answer.
Hopefully these search engines won't take over the planet. Instead, they could make their money in more straightforward ways, such as licensing their technology for corporate networks or by hooking up with hardware manufacturers: Google, for example, recently announced a deal with Logitech, to embed access to Google in Logitech mouse buttons and keyboards. Maybe not a bad idea to help newbies.
A FINAL WORD
Install the Google toolbar and use it for basic searches. For more elaborate ones, download the free version of Copernic 2001 Basic, a program that trawls all the major search engines and filters the results for duplicates and relevance. And if it’s any consolation, remember that searching the Internet is still a lot more convenient than hunting for a book in your local library.
The above was condensed and paraphrased from three articles that appeared on WALL STREET JOURNAL Online (wsj.com):
1) "Avoid Web Rage: How to Keep Your Web Searches Under Control" by Jeremy Wagstaff, Staff Reporter, August 27, 2001
2) "New Web Search Tools Offer Useful Shortcuts, Nice Twists" by Thomas E. Weber, Staff Reporter, October 1, 2001
3) "Some Search Services Rethink Web Results for Cipro Seekers" by Stephanie Miles, October 24, 2001