Best Alternative Search Engines of 2007

The AltSearchEngines blog recently issued a list of the top 10 alternative search engines for 2007. These highlight lesser-known search engines that rate well from an innovation, retrieval, or popularity standpoint. All of these are trying to distinguish themselves in different ways, and it’s quite exciting to see their inventive ideas. Here’s the list:

  1. Quintura – This puts results in a tag cloud alongside of a list of results.
  2. Answers.com – Aggregates results from well-known sources. I used this a lot while writing Designing Web Navigation.
  3. Exalead – Supports regular Boolean query formats.
  4. Omgili – Searches user-generated content such as forums and discussion groups to “find out what people are saying about everything and anything.”
  5. KoolTorch – Visualizes results (but I found the rollovers with blurbs of the results problematic)
  6. GoshMe – Still in beta. Instead of searching sites, GoshMe finds the most relevant search engines to find results. It’s a search engine about search engines.
  7. Aftervote – Combines results from Google, Yahoo! and Live Search and indicates ranking fromthose sites. You can also sort by any one of those engine’s rankings, as well as by Digg votes. You can then rank results yourself. I found this approach quite interesting.
  8. KartOO – One of the first to visualize results
  9. Dialogus – A Russian Answers.com-like search engine in English or Russian). Not sure about how well this one works, but they seem to be really trying. I quite like the waiting message after submiting a search: you really get a sense that something is happening on the back-end.
  10. Onkosh – Pptimized for searching Arabic language content.

Some trends I noticed:

  • Word wheels – Answers.com is an example of this I often use to demonstrate a word wheel. These seem to becoming more and more popular, but many have usability problems. There are two kinds: those that show terms in the search engine’s index, like on Answers.com, or those that display recently typed in strings from the browser. Some (e.g., CiteSeer) grab things you’ve typed from a variety of input fields and go far back in time.
  • Displaying results as text list – Well, this isn’t new, but when you’re doing things like visualizing results you don’t need a plain list of results anymore, right? That doesn’t seem that’s the case in every situation. For instance, Grokker (not in the list) used to only show their visualization. Now they offer the text list as the default. Maybe information visualizations complement plain old results lists and won’t replace them?
  • Defaulting to a country based on your location – Lots of sites put me into their German version of the site automatically, even if I go to the dotcom address. This is generally annoying to me. Sometimes you can get to the dotcom site, but most now have a link at the bottom. Still, if I put in a dotcom address, please don’t swtich me automatically. I know–they need the eyeballs for advertising revenue in a fixed geographical region. This also applies to the Best Bet hits at the top of results: I see things in German even if I search from the dotcom site.
  • Visual cues to foreshadow sites – Many search engines are now including thumbnails of homepages in the results list. Or, Quintura includes the site’s logo, for instance.
  • Search refinement options – Most of the sites above start with a Google-like experience: a simple input field and a Go button. Then, in the results environment, people can refine and manipulate items in a number of ways. Making suggestions is very popular, particular spelling suggestions. But there’s also more and more search refinement suggestions using things like pseudo relevance feedback techniques or similar. Overall, the experience is: put a few words in and get to the results as quickly as possible; then refine them later.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Success at MURAL

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