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Looking for new ways to search

Sixty per cent of all Internet searches are made on Google – its nearest rival Yahoo! only attracts 14 per cent and Microsoft a paltry four per cent. Google is king … but for how long? INTERFACE Editor Greg Adams investigates.

To Google or not to Google? For a few years now, it’s been a no-brainer. It’s been the search engine of choice for most of us.

Despite trying to spread its wings beyond the search function – gmail, Google Earth, Google Desktop, iGoogle and Web Alerts to name a few – the company still earns more than 80 per cent of its profits from adverts on its simplistic home page.

Clearly, its continued success relies largely on the extraordinary dominance of its search function. And therein lies the problem. The reason Google became a Web favourite is because it’s simple and it works. However, loyalty is a slippery thing, especially among the online community – probably the most fickle group in history. We demand ever better returns from our online experience and history shows that as soon as the leader can’t deliver … we’ll be off.

In 1995 AltaVista was a favourite, then Yahoo!. In 1998 a company with a daft name and reportedly ‘better’ search results began to emerge. Yahoo! inexplicably put its search box on its home page and Microsoft didn’t rate the search function at this stage – by 2000, Google was the one to beat. The fact that it’s stayed there is testament to its effectiveness. But for how long?

Early engines like AltaVista simply searched for Web pages containing the search word. Google’s innovation was to further rank a Web page by its popularity and the pages it was linked to (on the assumption that if a page is linked to by a lot of others it must be useful). The more hits and links a page enjoys, the higher it’s returned in a search.

The next leap forward is currently the topic of much debate, work and investment, not just by companies but governments as well.

If Google has any real fault, it’s that it comes up with too many results. The threat is that there is a whole new generation of search engines trying to find new ways to top its performance, be that through greater accuracy or optimisation of the way that results are presented. Some of them want to beat Google at its own game of being the universal, all-you-can-eat search engine; others – such as Quintura (http://www.quintura.com) – are aiming to be more specific research tools, increasing the depth of the search while reducing the scope.

Language, of course, also plays a part. Baidu (http://www.baidu.com) enjoys an enormous following in China. It’s basically a Google clone but in Mandarin.

Other alternatives include iWon (http://www.iwon.com), which offers prizes to searchers, and Ask (www.askjeeves.com) that returns Web pages based on the answers asked by the user. Some spider-type search engines choose not to store an index, instead collecting and assessing items at the time of the search query. To get a good listing in GoTo (http://www.goto.com) websites have to pay – although I’m not sure why that’s good for the user.

Perhaps the rise of what’s called Meta search engines is the way forward – they simply reuse the index or results of one or more other search engines … like Dogpile (http://www.dogpile.com).

And how does a company with a daft name like that ever expect to succeed?!

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Categories: Article, Issue 1