Keeping up with all the enhancements and changes with our favorite search engines can be quite a chore. Recently, searchers have been barraged with news of new or improved plug-in browser toolbars from the search engine services-several have been announced in the past few months, including ones from Google, Teoma, and most recently, Ask Jeeves (which also owns Teoma). These free, downloadable navigational search bars offer searchers quick access to their favorite service from any Web page. So while developments in toolbars are something additional to monitor, the handiness and time saving offered by these utilities could make it worth the effort. And once they're installed, many of them update themselves automatically with new features and enhancements.
The Google Toolbar (http://toolbar.google.com) has been around awhile and is probably the most familiar to searchers because of Google's dominance. (I featured the Google Toolbar in my NewsLink article in May 2001.) Of all the search utilities I've tried, this one has stayed in my browser the longest. Google recently announced enhancements to it, making it probably the one with the most features. It's even available in 19 languages besides English. I like the Site Search, which lets me search only the pages I'm visiting. Google now offers some "experimental features," such as the option to use a Combined Search button as a way to conserve real estate on your Toolbar while still retaining access to all the ways there are to search using Google.
The newly launched Ask Jeeves Toolbar (available for download at http://www.ask.com/toolbar) provides users with access to Ask Jeeves from any Web page. According to a company representative, there are three features that make it unique. A feature called JeevesLinks enables people to create lists of sites they can quickly access and explore at a later time, drop an anchor that allows users to save one or more pages for later viewing, and open links in a new browser in order to stay on the original page while searching for information. The Ask Jeeves Toolbar also offers Search Events, which guides users to local events, restaurants, showtimes, and more based on the user's ZIP code or city and state; and Search Weather, which gives users access to updated weather forecasts in their area by keying in ZIP code or city and state information.
In addition, the Ask Jeeves Toolbar delivers a Search News feature that lets users access and search for breaking news and related information in real time; Search Market, which helps searchers find stock quotes and access other financial information concerning companies; and Search Dictionary, which helps users look up words with Merriam-Webster online.
There are also two additional features that are offered with Ask Jeeves Toolbar and Teoma's Search Bar that are not available via Yahoo! or Google. Email This Page to a Friend lets users e-mail any Web page along with a personal message with a click of a button. Both Teoma and Ask Jeeves also offer Web browser functionality that allows users to type specific Web addresses into the search box and be taken directly to the desired site. The Teoma Toolbar (http://www.teoma.com/toolbar) gives access to the Teoma search engine from any Web page.
Yahoo! Companion, first introduced back in 1999, is a free toolbar that you can customize with buttons for your favorite Yahoo! services and that allows you to get alerts when you have new Yahoo! mail. A utility called Lycos SeeMore, powered by FAST (the folks that offer AllTheWeb.com), lets you right-click on a word or phrase to search. Even the online auction site eBay is offering a toolbar to help its members search for items and remind them of auction deadlines.
In July, Chris Sherman wrote about a toolbar that I was unaware of that extends to multiple search engines: UltraBar (http://www.ultrabar.com), a simple search toolbar that allows you to add virtually any search engine to its menu (http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/02/sd0715-ultrabar.html). Sherman also pointed out an important distinction. "Unlike many 'free' programs available today, UltraBar does not install spyware or adware on your system, either. UltraBar does not collect any information about you other than what is contained in their Web server log files, and only installs the components necessary to power UltraBar directly."
This is one thing that had bothered me about the useful Alexa Toolbar (http://www.alexa.com). While it provides access to handy site information, like contact information, site statistics, and user reviews, and suggests related links, it also collects personal information about where you browse. (Actually, Google also collects Web site information if the Advanced Features are enabled.) The Alexa Toolbar can be easily turned off and back on. A search button provides searching of Alexa, Yahoo!, and Google, and, not surprising, Amazon.com, the owner of Alexa. There's a Wayback button that shows archived pages for a site from the Wayback Machine.
So there are plenty of choices in add-on toolbars. As a spokesperson from Ask Jeeves commented, "Most folks who download a toolbar will find it helpful, but no two toolbars are exactly alike and just how they perform for a user matters a great deal." So if you have a favorite search engine, you might want to download the appropriate toolbar. And if you can't choose, load more than one.