Beyond Bing: Specialised search engines have plenty to offer
Washington - Microsoft's recent launch of its search engine bing (http://www.bing.com) prompted many to stray from Google for the first time in a while.
What they found was a search engine with a few nifty tricks up its sleeve.
But Bing isn't the only alternative search engine that has managed to introduce features that search kings Google and Yahoo don't have.
Plenty of newcomers are innovating in ways that can add up to significant productivity gains for you as you search for information on the Internet. Here are a few.
--- Social networking search
Social networking sites - everything from Twitter to the myriad forums on every topic imaginable - has transformed the Web in many ways, not least because these sites provide a flow of information that is constantly updated. Unfortunately, traditional search engines - which rely on store and retrieve technology - aren't good at indexing up-to-the-minute changes on these social networking sites, and that's where Collecta http://collecta.com) comes in.
Collecta specialises in "real time search," and it focuses on those sites where information is continually updated - news sites, blogs, social networking sites, and more. Type a search term, and you'll get not just some stored or cached data that may be months old but rather the latest mentions of whatever you searched for.
What's more, Collecta continually updates its search results, and you can see those results being updated in real time. It's a far cry from the constant refreshing you would need to do at most search engines.
Collecta isn't the only search engine doing real-time search. IceRocket (http://www.icerocket.com), Scoopler (http://www.scoopler.com), and OneRiot (http://www.oneriot.com) have similar missions, scouring the "realtime Web" and presenting you the results.
--- Informational search
Sorting through the vast amount of information on the Web to find what's most useful is a job normally left up to you. Most search engines present you with thousands of links, and you're supposed to scan the first few dozen and figure out what's worth clicking.
Kosmix (http://www.kosmix.com) takes a different approach. Working as a kind of information aggregator, Kosmix presents your search results in a magazine page format so that you can more easily scan the types of information available. One section, for instance, is devoted to "featured topics," while video and image-related results are presented under the more traditional links. Also, a section of search results is compiled from social media sites. Because its emphasis is on quality rather than quantity, Kosmix tends to favour results from content-heavy sites such as Wikipedia.
--- Visual search
Most search engines actually waste your time by showing you mere links to other Web sites, or at best small snippets of information under each link. So you end up spending a lot of time backpedaling away from sites that never would have looked at if you had received more information about the site before you clicked.
Searchme (http://www.searchme.com) has a solution. Type in a search term, and instead of getting a page full of links, you'll see readable, almost-full-page snapshots of the Web sites that Searchme believes best meet your needs. Because the Web page snapshots are quite large, you see only one at a time.
A slider under the snapshot makes it easy to move back and forth through the search results - each presented as a large snapshot, with text that is readable and graphics clearly visible. The movement through the search results using the slider is similar, in fact, to the task switching experience that Windows Vista users get with Flip 3D, available by holding down the Windows key and tapping Tab.
To actually visit a site, you just click on the snapshot. Searchme's interface is quite intuitive, and handy links along the top include a "preferences" menu with which you can customise how the search engine looks and acts.
The concept of metasearch - querying multiple search engines through one interface - has been around for almost as long as search engines themselves. But a clear metasearch winner never seems to surface.
Veterans such as Mamma (http://www.mamma.com) and Dogpile (http://www.dogpile.com) are still around, and both are more than capable of dredging up results from the major search engines and presenting them in a standard list format. Dogpile, in particular, has an interface that will be almost instantly familiar - and it is nicely customisable.
There are some interesting newcomers to the metasearch space, however, and in some cases they're teaching the old dogs new tricks. Scour (http://www.scour.com), for instance, takes customisability to a new level. It offers users the ability to determine how search results are sorted, to see at a glance how well the sites are ranked in the major search engines, and to leave comments about Web sites as well as to see the comments others have left.
Kartoo (http://www.kartoo.com), like Searchme, presents results from the major search engines visually. A small thumbnail of each search result gives you an idea of how the Web page looks, and a lengthy summary of each Web site appears under the thumbnail. Numerous options allow you to customise everything from content to the look and feel of the site.
Clusty (http://clusty.com) will not only pull pages from the major search engines but also organise those pages into categories. The categories, presented on the left side of the screen, can help you drill down to more specific information about your search term. It's another filtering device that aims to get you the information you really need with a minimum of unproductive clicking.
As the Web grows, it's only natural that information will appear in more forms - and in more abundance - than it has in the past. That's why we're seeing more specialised search engines, and that's also why it makes sense for you to keep a few in your bookmark list. (dpa)