Most information professionals have a group of favorite search engines they tap on a regular basis, since they know that multiple resources are essential to a searcher's toolkit. My own favorites are dictated by my heavy concentration on breaking news, thus Google News and AlltheWeb.com's News Search are on the top of my list. I also use both of these engines for regular Web searching because of the size of their indexes and overall features and relevance.
While AlltheWeb.com is well-known among expert searchers and garners positive coverage in the technology press, it struggles for wider visibility against the brand recognition and well-deserved reputation of Google. Some observers have pointed to AlltheWeb.com as a possible Google successor, but Google has real momentum that will be hard to counter. My feeling is that the competition is good for users, as the search engines try to outdo each other. I also like to have choices.
Most of the major search engines have made improvements over the past several months, as they aim to deliver quicker and more accurate results for users. Fast Search & Transfer (FAST) recently announced that it has increased the relevance of its search results through advanced relevancy techniques and has expanded its indexed Web formats to offer Microsoft Word. The improvements apply to its showcase search site, AlltheWeb.com, and to its portal partners that use the FAST Web Search index, which include HotBot, Dogpile, Excite, InfoSpace, Terra Lycos, Tiscali, T-Online, and more.
Specifically, FAST announced that it has added the use of the proximity of search terms within a document to its ranking algorithm. According to Tim Mayer, vice president of FAST Web Search, "Internal tests for this release have demonstrated improvements of over 12 percent in relevancy, further heightening the search experience for users."
Well, I can't attest to the claimed 12-percent improvement, but users should appreciate any advances in relevancy. Tara Calishain commented in a recent ResearchBuzz that she's always found the relevance at AlltheWeb to be pretty good and that she can't detect much of a difference in the tests she ran.
FAST is now including documents in Microsoft Word format within its Web search results. Each Word document is labeled (MS Word) next to the title on a results page. Users can also restrict a search to only Word documents by employing the pull-down menu in the "results restriction" section of AlltheWeb's advanced searching page. The pull-down menu also lets users specify Adobe PDF or Macromedia Flash file. (For comparison, Google will search for Word files and also PDF, PostScript, Excel, PowerPoint, and Rich Text Format files.)
My colleague Gary Price has also just posted a note on his ResourceShelf site about the use of the syntax "filetype." He said that a FAST spokesperson has confirmed that this works on AlltheWeb. According to Price: "You can apply these limits directly from the search box by typing: filetype: pdf (Limiting to only Acrobat material) filetype: msword (Limiting to only Word documents) filetype: flash (Limiting to only Flash presentations)."
FAST also continues to add portal partners and enterprise customers for its FAST Data Search product. The company recently announced that Elsevier Engineering Information, Inc. (Ei) has fully deployed FAST Data Search to power the search and retrieval capabilities of its EngineeringVillage2 platform (http://www.engineeringvillage2.org). According to the announcement, Ei selected the product over several competing enterprise search solutions "due to its ability to produce high-quality search results, superior indexing of structured and unstructured data, and effectively scale across multiple platforms."
Commenting on the new implementation, Bernard Aleva, Ei's president and CEO, said: "FAST's powerful solution has improved the search performance of our platform to an incredible extent. This has enabled us to bring the quality of our service to a completely new level."
According to an article in the October 2002 issue of Fast Co. (which is not related to FAST), Google may have a group of almost fanatical supporters, but smart searchers shouldn't forget about FAST and its AlltheWeb.com site. The article stated that FAST was "coming up on the blind side" as a "low-profile, aerodynamic Norwegian machine, with a supercharged search engine and a well-tuned business model that may just leave Google in the dust."
I'm not anxious for any of the engines to be left in the dust. Just keep those improvements coming.
Finally, as I was writing this article, Yahoo!, Inc. announced it is acquiring Inktomi. Some are saying the deal sets the stage for a shake-up in the search engine world, or at least strategic repositioning. In particular, it puts pressure on Google, which has been Yahoo!'s supplier of search technology since 2000. Inktomi in turn has been the supplier for Microsoft's MSN service. So we could see some interesting developments in Web search. Stay tuned.