2010-03-31: Beyond or beside Google: Intro

Posted at 2010-03-31 16:16:41 by SHD

Having been online since the mid '90s, I've used a variety of search engines. Even back then, the web was too large to find the stuff you needed quickly, so search engines played an important role in day to day internet use. I used AltaVista when it was still hosted at digital.com, Yahoo and Webcrawler, which integrated results from multiple search engines. With the exponential growth of the web, these search engines have become even more essential today. I think it was in 2000 when a colleague of mine told me about this little-known engine that was no-frills, fast and yielded great search results. It was called Google. For nearly 10 years, Google has been my primary search engine and I've never really been dissatisfied with it. Simply put, they do a terrific job at search.

Even though privacy on the internet is pretty much an illusion and I haven't really got anything to hide, I was decidedly nonplussed when it became Google's policy to retain IP address logs for 9 months and cookie logs for 18 months. For web search, I switched to Bing, even though Microsoft also keeps such logs for 18 months, but I wanted to try something different. That and Google's ever-extending reach into almost all aspects of our online lives (not just search, but also YouTube, GMail, the Chrome browser, AdSense everywhere [yes, even on this very site] and Google Apps, to name but a few) got me thinking... there should be good alternatives for all of these. While I'm not particularly worried about using Google's services, they do do a great job after all, it can't hurt to check out those alternatives, can it? I'm not a heavy user of those other services, but web search is particularly essential.

Sherlock Holmes, searching

So, I'm going to make this into a little experiment, trying out a few of those alternatives for Google web search, not just Microsoft's Bing search that I've used for the past few weeks. For the coming 6 weeks, I intend to use a different primary search engine each week. They came out of the hat in the following order:

  1. April 5th - 11th: Teoma which takes the minimalist approach that originally attracted me to Google. This is operated by the company that also owns YouTube competitor Vimeo.
  2. April 12th - 18th: Google itself, obviously.
  3. April 19th - 25th: Duck Duck Go, an odd duck (pardon the pun) as it's relatively unknown and run personally by founder Gabriel Weinberg who seems to have some nice and innovative ideas about search.
  4. April 26th - May 2nd: Yahoo!, the first search engine I ever tried and still a large player.
  5. May 3rd - May 9th: Cuil, launched with great fanfare as a Google-killer, but apparently not doing such a great job; can it really be that bad? I'll find out.
  6. May 10th - May 16th: Microsoft Bing, which I've used as primary search for the past few weeks.

There's plenty more, of course, such as Ask, Excite, Lycos. Even the ones I used back in the mid '90s, AltaVista and WebCrawler are still active, but I had to set a limited scope for my experiment, so those are the 6 I've chosen.

In these 6 weeks, the search engine I'm evaluating will be my browser homepage on all my PCs, both at home and at work. I'll even use it on BlackBerry, iPhone and the simple Nokia S60 browser. Although the engine of the week will be my primary search engine, that does not mean I will use it exclusively and I may turn to other engines if necessary to find the information I need. I will be looking at two things:

  1. the best results, by how many linked pages I need to read before I feel I have found the answer I was looking for
  2. the most pleasant experience. This includes usability features and highly subjective things that are more related to the company or people behind the search engine. This could be anything from the videos on Google's YouTube channel to the Bing Webmaster tools, to Gabriel Weinberg's blog, to Yahoo's News portal

After every week, I'll write up my experiences for those engines here on this blog, stating the pros and cons that I ran across in the way I use a search engine, what I liked or didn't like, and include some samples of queries where I think the engine gave particularly good or particularly bad results. Also, for one day in the week of May 17th, I'm going to have a showdown for those 6 engines and will do every query identically on each, and assign scores to the results. It's perhaps not all that scientific and highly subjective, as it is dependent on my personal preference, but I'm going to try to evaluate each engine as fairly as possible and publish my findings before ultimately deciding on which of these competitors to use on a daily basis.

Related articles:

  1. Week 1: Teoma
  2. Week 2: Google
  3. Week 3: Duck Duck Go
  4. Week 4: Yahoo!
  5. Week 5: Cuil

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