Going beyond Google to multiple search engines

At programming courses (partly responsible for things being slow lately here) teacher’s notebook is usually one with best Internet connection and used for references. It has Chrome, that natively turns whatever non-URL stuff you type in into Google searches. So does Opera but I usually prefix my searches there with g out of custom search engines habit.

So it got us talking about alternative search engines and in response to typical “Are there even any anymore? I only use Google!” I blurted “Then I pity you.” Full of tact and charm as usual. Anyway that actually sums up my thoughts nicely – it is pitiful to limit yourself to single search engine.

Problem of search monopoly

Google uses algorithm that is:

  • very complex;
  • very secret so we don’t even know how complex;
  • largely based on links so it promotes linked to resources.

Basically you have know idea what it serves you but it is mostly fitting of decent quality and on relatively popular resource on topic. It kinda works. Except when it fails and serves you bullshit, ranked by spamming or buying links.

Sad part – you won’t know that because you have no other set of search results to compare with. You could but you don’t bother.

Where to stick with Google

The less specific your search query is the more likely it is to get quality results from Google. Law of large numbers – given large amount of link flying around they will gravitate towards subjectively better content.

Google is very good at providing generic answers to generic questions.

Where to push Google further

Google itself is not arrogant enough to think single search mechanism is enough. They carefully weave multiple options in there that slowly turn it into multi-variant search. You can filter by timeline, search in specific type of sites, jump to more specialized search version like Images.

It doesn’t change the fact that it is still Google, but it does enhance basic Google experience. And it is serious deal, enough to warrant recent major interface update and making sidebar options much more obvious to users.

Where to ignore Google and go for others

That still leaves one corner not covered – highly precise queries on specialized topics. Complexity of specific topic and whole Internet as data source are fast to confuse Google on such.

That is where alternative search engines start to shine. Not all of them, but definitely those that work with large but precise sets of topical data.

  • Wikipedia is more likely to understand what are you asking;
  • IMDB is more likely to serve you accurate list of films with actress;
  • WolframAlpha can draw you barecode or plot weather and do plenty more with data;
  • just decide on a topic, find (Google?) largest site and see if it has search.

Overall

None of listed and many more examples can replace Google separately or combined. However smaller search engines do things that Google is too large and inert to do. They understand your queries as if they were best friend and not cool distanced professional.

Use Google for stuff. Use specialized search for what really matters to you.

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8 Comments

  • Perfect timing! Exactly what I was thinking about this morning. With Google set as home page on most browsers there are millions of people out there who don’t even know other search engines exist. Long ago (very long ago) there was a plethora of options. I often used a site that accessed maybe 30 of them at once. And, I used other single search engines. Now, I still use AllTheWeb.com but, having forgotten the names of other alternatives, I looked them up just now. Running a search for, you guessed it, search engines, using AllTheWeb, turns up 334,000,000 possibilities. Seeing the names, I begin to remember but – I haven’t finished checking them out yet :)

  • Chrome (or at least Chromium) remembers site-searches. I can even look for something in my blog using the address bar.

  • @Jason

    Comparison searches are interesting but usually too clunky for regular use. Search engines are very reluctant to let people aggregate their results.

    @kelltic

    Yeah, Google kinda won Internet in regards to competition. :) Still small and specialized can often beat generic.

    @Fabián

    Browser-detectable searches are very interesting topic. It reminds me of early RSS days – awesome and underknown. I keep brooding on writing post about it but tricky to fit both user’s and webmaster’s perspective nicely into it.

  • Speaking of WolframAlpha…I find http://www.trueknowledge.com/ better for non-mathematical queries. Though of course these days Google is becoming all encompassing and is beginning to answer more and more queries directly itself.

  • @Saurabh

    First time i hear about that one. Bookmarked to check out, thanks!

  • “Wikipedia is more likely to understand what are you asking” – even more likely, when you search it with Google;).
    “Search Term” site:[language].wikipedia.org

  • @OAlexander

    Actually I much prefer Wikipedia’s native search. It has it clearly – either you are looking for something that has an article about it or not. Google starts to second guess your query and stuffs results with whatever it can (as usual).

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