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Expand Your Search Engine Options
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Posted On August 2, 2012


One of the most popular bylined pieces in our NewsBreaks/NewsLink Spotlight collection has been my April 1, 2010 article, "Alternative Search Engines Offer Rich Options." Since things have changed considerably in the last 2-plus years, I decided it was time to look at what some of the most useful options now are for search engines. While Google continues its domination of the search market, some enterprising folks continue to seek out alternatives—for additional features, interface preferences, spam avoidance, or privacy and security reasons.

And, most of the top web search trainers implore people to expand their horizons and try other search tools, including directories. It’s best to have a collection of tools on hand rather than just a single choice.

For example, while I don’t use Bing a lot for searches, I really like the price predictor feature in Bing Travel that predicts if airfares will rise, remain steady, or are expected to drop. Bing claims that, “According to a third-party audit of our predictive technology, we’re about 75% accurate and on average, customers will save over $50 on a typical round-trip transaction.” It has saved me money on several occasions.

DuckDuckGo

The search engine with the funny name, DuckDuckGo, has a serious mission—protect users’ privacy. It’s very outspoken in presenting itself as an option to Google. “Google tracks you. We don’t.” DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information.

Google has been accused in the U.K. and in France of breaching data privacy laws by retaining personal data as its cars took pictures for Google’s Street View feature. The company was fined and promised to delete it—but recently admitted that it still had not deleted the data. Google has also come under various investigations in the U.S.

Thus, alternatives such as DuckDuckGo may look attractive to searchers concerned over the data stored by search engines. As DuckDuckGo notes, “Search engines could lose data, or get hacked, or accidentally expose data due to security holes or incompetence, all of which has happened with personal information on the internet… The bottom line is if search engines have your information, it could get out, even if they have the best intentions. And this information (your search history) can be pretty personal.” 

So, DuckDuckGo takes the approach to not collect any personal information. “The decisions of whether and how to comply with law enforcement requests, whether and how to anonymize data, and how to best protect your information from hackers are out of our hands. Your search history is safe with us because it cannot be tied to you in any way.” 

It’s worth taking a few minutes to read the privacy statement at DuckDuckGo. It may offer an alternative for searching for sensitive information, such as a health condition.

There’s another factor that may make it attractive over using Google. There’s something called the search engine “filter bubble.” Basically, when people search the internet using Google and other search engines, different results are shown to different searchers based on their search history and their click history. And, since people tend to click on what they agree with, they will get more of what they agree with while other content gets demoted—effectively filtered out. DuckDuckGo notes it breaks you out of this filter bubble by default.

Finally, DuckDuckGo claims “way less spam and clutter.” Nathan Safran, writing at SearchEngineLand, tested searches in Google and DuckDuckGo. His assessment in an article called Could DuckDuckGo Be The Biggest Long-Term Threat To Google? was the following: 

The conclusion from our Google–DuckDuckGo SERP comparison for several query types is that DDG is clearly innovating in search ‘presentation’—an area that has arguably decayed over the years as the large search engines rush to cram ever more (images, video, local, advertising, social …) into the search results. Specifically, DDG has successfully reduced the ‘searcher work quotient,’ improving on the ‘get in and get out’ standard. 

Search expert Karen Blakeman recently noticed another problem with Google—multiple entries from single websites cluttering up results. She noted, “DuckDuckGo is my main Google alternative and it came up with a decent and varied set of results without repetition, hesitation, or deviation.” She also said that Bing and Yandex came up with similar, nonrepetitive results. “For me, there are now several Google alternatives that produce quality results and with less irritation. I shall be using them more in [the] future.”

Blekko

Marydee Ojala covered the public beta launch of the new search engine Blekko in November 2010. Its goal was not to beat Google but to beat web spam. Its “slashtags” let users search only the sites they want and cut out the spam sites. At that time, she noted, “I think Blekko is an excellent alternative to Google—not a replacement for Google, but a search engine that provides different answers and varying perspectives. It allows for vertical, opinion, and customized searches. It encourages information sharing. It may take some time for information professionals to fully capitalize on its technology, but I think librarians will be in the forefront of those finding creative uses for slashtag searching.”

Since that time, Blekko has improved its crawling and worked hard to gain the respect of searchers who want high-quality, relevant, spam-free search results. It was an exhibitor at the recent Computers in Libraries 2012, American Library Association (ALA), and the Special Libraries Association (SLA) annual meetings. It has librarians on its content team.

Blekko notes, “We believe search should be open, transparent, and collaborative.” It does not “attempt to gather all of the world’s information. We purposefully bias our index away from sites with low quality content.” Blekko also deletes users’ search logs within 48 hours. Blakeman uses Blekko. She says it is “good at pulling up information that explores more than the mainstream issues.”

Looking Back

So what has happened to the tools I profiled just a bit more than 2 years ago? Some have died, some have been acquired, and some are continuing to grow.

Leapfish.com

The metasearch tool, first launched in beta and plugged as an “evolved search engine,” is now gone. The domain is for sale.

hakia.com

hakia.com is a semantic search engine that brings relevant results based on concept match rather than keyword match or popularity ranking. Its public web search engine is still available. It focuses on bringing quality results in all segments including Web, News, Blogs, hakia Galleries, Credible Sources, Video, and Images. According to the website, some segments are processed by hakia’s proprietary core semantic technology called QDEXing (Deep Semantics) while others are processed by hakia's SemanticRank technology using third-party API feeds (Surface Semantics). 

The company now focuses on semantic search for businesses, including box, software, and hosted solutions. In addition, it offers some customized solutions for specific markets.

  • Aerohakia is specifically customized for the aerospace industry.
  • MoodTRADE.com is an investment tool that “harnesses a breakthrough technology” to enable an investor to instantly assess the character and impact of all available information from traditional news, online, and social media on a company's valuation. MoodTRADE was previously branded as SENSEnews.com, which I mentioned in the 2010 article.
  • newpubmed.com is a search engine that searches through 20-plus million abstracts in the Pubmed database of medical documents. NewPubmed.com is a free service to the health community, and is a demonstration of the semantic capabilities of hakia. 

Hakia’s experimental site NoBrandSearch.com has expired.

Hunch.com

As of Nov. 21, 2011, Hunch became part of eBay, which uses its technology to serve up ecommerce recommendations. Hunch.com continues to operate as a stand-alone site. It provides personalized recommendations from people you follow and makes customized predictions based on your interests. On the site, it boldly states:

Hunch’s ambitious mission is to build a Taste Graph of the entire web, connecting every person on the web with their affinity for anything, from books to electronic gadgets to fashion or vacation spots. Hunch is at the forefront of combining algorithmic machine learning with user-curated content, with the goal of providing better recommendations for everyone.

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha reports that it isn’t a search engine. It’s a “computational knowledge engine.” It generates output by doing computations from its own internal knowledgebase, instead of searching the web and returning links. Since its launch in 2009, it has continually added new data sources and tools, including apps for mobile devices. There’s a subscription-based PRO version that provides additional features and functionality.  


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

Email Paula J. Hane

Related Articles

1/22/2009New Search Engine Hopes to Leap Over the Competition—LeapFish.com
5/21/2009Wolfram Alpha—Semantic Search Is Born
6/25/2009Hunch: A Psycho-Social Divinatory Machine for the Masses
4/1/2010Alternative Search Engines Offer Rich Options
11/11/2010New Search Engine Blekko Invites You to Slash the Web
3/3/2011Search Quality, Content Farms, and Conspiracy Theories
1/10/2013Blekko Launches izik, a New Tablet Search App


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