Google reigns as the undisputed king of the jungle, but there’s plenty of other critters in this zoo. Despite – or perhaps because of – its predominance and scope, Google may not be the best for every inquiry where personal privacy concerns or a particularly obscure topic is involved.
What follows is a list – by no means comprehensive — of some current search engines. They are divided into two types: general or open in nature, and specialized or closed. The major difference is that specialized search engines are either dedicated to a particular topic, or limit the search arena to preselected categories usually from a drop-down menu or scrolling pane.
These days, neither type of tool stands as alone as they once frequently did. If general in nature, they may be part of a huge content portal offering numerous other services, like maps and translating tools and email.
Specialized ones are just as likely to be a feature of large sites, such as online department stores and libraries, but just about every merchant with a website has a some search capability available. We’ll only be able to look at a few samples of the most popular, useful, or offbeat ones.
Adding Search Engines to Your Browser
Once you’ve found a new search engine you may want to use in the future, be sure to bookmark it. Or if you use Firefox, you can use the Search Engine Management feature.
In the toolbar, usually on the upper right, is the Search Bar, a field marked by a magnifying glass, where your default search engine is displayed. Simply enter the term you’re looking for in the box to get a page of results. To repeat the search with another engine, click on the downward pointing triangle to see a drop-down menu where all the installed alternatives are listed.
If you don’t see the one you want, at the bottom of the list is the heading Manage search engines… Click on that to get a dialog box where you can change your list or its order. Click on Get more search engines… and up pops a page, Add-ons for Search Tools, listing some plug-ins for search engines and instructions. Select the one you want and click on Add to Firefox. Another Mozilla page, the Mycroft Project, has links to over a hundred popular search page plug-ins.
This is necessary, because to be included in the Search Bar each search engine requires its own plug-in. But you can add certain closed engines even more easily. The icon in the Search Bar conveniently glows when you visit a site with a specialized search engine that you can add. If that’s what you want to do, click for the list, and click on the new one to be added at the bottom.
Internet Explorer has a similar arrangement. Go to their Add Search Providers page to find a list of general and topical search engines and instructions on how to add others.
Surprisingly, even Google’s own Chrome browser offers a few plug-ins for other engines.
General Search Engines
The single most widely-used search engine on the Web, Google offers unmatched speed and content for both text and images. It is also offers plenty of other services, many free, and also some fantastic specialized search functions, such as Google Book Search. However, Google also collects user data and applies what it discovers to the ads it offers users on sites across the Web. Its high degree of personalization also means that results for one user may be different from another.
The first really popular search engine, Yahoo originally was compiled by hand. It now uses algorithms presumably similar to Google from search engine AltaVista (home of the first online translator, BabelFish), when that company was taken over. Yahoo! is a gigantic content portal that offers a number of other services.
Microsoft’s recent entry touts itself as a “decision engine.” So its results are generally more action-oriented than most others, weighted towards things you can do or watch. Many possibilities but may tend towards the superficial.
Wouldn’t it be convenient and save time to use several engines at once? Dogpile does that, mashing together results from Google, Yahoo!, and Bing.
Media giant CBS offers this “metasearch search engine.” This one gathers results from Google, Bing, Blekko, and DMOZ.
This one claims to cut down on spam and inaccurate results through a system of user-generated tags.
The Open Directory Project is behind this unique project. DMOZ may be the only significant “human-edited directory” left on the Web. Though indeed open, DMOZ, like Yahoo! originally did, lists links by categories, which now number over a million. Working much like Wikipedia, volunteer contributors and editors hunt down and classify links in a wide variety of languages.
Known as “Jeeves” originally, Ask still retains a strong orientation to questions and curiosity.
This bills itself as a “computational knowledge engine” for solving math and other problems and finding facts, aided by experts and a community of users. Powerful and with great potential, but unless you have a simple problem, it may be difficult to put your search into terms the program can use.
Formerly Lycos, and apparently undergoing a makeover to a much more graphic style, this search engine utilizes Yahoo! But it also uses its own to generate categories related to the search term and populate them with thumbnails of webpages. Interesting, and the feature may be helpful, too.
This site boasts of being “the world’s most private search engine” – even though powered largely by Google, as well as Ixquick, “the first and only EU-approved” engine. StartPage claims it doesn’t collect IP numbers or user information or that cookies are required.
Even more passionately opposed to Google’s policies than StartPage and a lot more geeky, Scroogle also relies entirely on Google as well. But it has irritated Google enough in the past to have been blocked on occasion by the search giant.
Specialized Search Engines
The online giant book-and-everything-else store search function is limited to its merchandise and that of its affiliates, but that’s still huge, and quite useful.
IMDB, a film information megasite, has a search engine devoted to all things related to moving pictures (including TV) and the people and companies who make them.
All about words; not just definitions, this site also features a thesaurus, translation tools, crosswords and puzzles, even flashcards for students.
Facts and information from “more than 100 trusted sources” – mainly various specialized encyclopedias, dictionaries, and thesauruses.
A site for bibliophiles to share their passions and discoveries, this site houses over 160,000,000 reviews and recommendations from users.
Search over a thousand dictionaries at once for definitions, find translations, or even find the right word by entering a list of related terms or phrases with their cool “reverse dictionary” feature.
This is for locating or reading free ebooks online in the popular PDF format.
Famous sayings, proverbs and so on, searchable by theme, place of origin or author.
This has been just a tiny taste of the variety of tools to find the information you want that’s available out there. Any discoveries you wish to share, please add them to the comments.
Happy Hunting and Good Luck!