Search engines to fit any style
(IDG) -- Like fashion designers, search engine proprietors are constantly coming out with new looks. Sure, much of it is eye-candy - nicer design, different colors, a special graphic for the holidays. But beneath the glitter are real changes made to help you find what you're looking for.
"Bigger is better" has been one of this year's most popular themes, as search engine designers try to outdo one another to see who can index more of the Web. Fast Search (www.alltheweb.com) is a new player and the current leader in the size game, having indexed more than 200 million Web pages.
Northern Light (www.northernlight.com), popular among research professionals, has indexed over 170 million Web pages. It also lets you search through documents from periodicals and other sources that aren't on the Web, though you have to pay a small fee to retrieve these documents.
Longtime players AltaVista (www.altavista.com) and Excite (www.excite.com) have indexed 150 million and 125 million Web pages, respectively.
Bigger is better if you're looking for obscure information or even anything that's relatively uncommon. But bigger isn't so helpful when you're looking for more general information, such as stock prices.
That's why another trend is to search by popularity. The goal is to make the most popular documents rise to the top, on the assumption that they will probably be the most relevant.
Google (www.google.com), which graduated from a university project into a hot start-up this year, ranks pages primarily by links. Pages with lots of links pointing at them or a few links from important Web sites are ranked high. Direct Hit (www.directhit.com) ranks pages by clicks. If everyone bypasses the top listing and selects the bottom one, that listing moves up.
Another trend this year has been a return to handcrafting. Open Directory (www.dmoz.org) has 17,000 volunteer editors organizing the Web into categories. Information from Open Directory is also being used to provide the main results at Lycos (www.lycos.com) and Netscape Search (search.netscape.com). And Go (www.go.com), formerly Infoseek, is using volunteers to build out the Go Guides area of its service.
LookSmart (www.looksmart.com) also uses human editors, and Microsoft liked its listings enough to license them for its own MSN Search (search.msn.com) service. Ask Jeeves (www.ask.com) uses human editors to deliver results in a unique way that's attracted attention and praise. Also consider Snap (www.snap.com) if you like categorized listings.
Then there's the granddaddy of human-powered services, Yahoo (www.yahoo.com). No matter what you're looking for, Yahoo is a compelling first choice due to the depth and quality of its listings.
And then there are metasearch services, which compile results from a variety of search engines at the same time. Top choices here are Go2Net (www.go2net.com) and Go2Net-owned Dogpile (www.dogpile.com).
Finally, why limit yourself to just one search engine when there are so many great ones to choose from? Search engines are free, so try them all on for size, and keep using the ones that fit you best.
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