By samoore (1251644912|%a, %b %e at %I:%M%p)
Since the beginning of this decade, Google's presence in our daily lives has quickly grown from a cool new website to part of our daily routine. Google is synonymous with searching and people go to Google to find something general or IMDB to find information about anything movie/TV related. But, there has to be other options out there, right? Indeed, there are - very small search engines that make Live, Yahoo, and Altavista seem as large as galaxies.
Google may be one of the easiest to use and is generally pretty reliable, but these niche search engines each seem to provide a unique feature that makes it worth using. It is very similar to Starbucks vs the local coffee shops. Every Starbucks is the same - same Fritalian-named drinks, same flavors, same tastes. Across the street is that little coffee shop that only exists in that one location. Although Starbucks is pretty good, it's blandness in variety helps accentuate the unique flavors and menu choices at that little coffee shop. Even the most avid technologists will continue to use Google - it's too good not too. But, Google's simplicity makes visiting these smaller sites exciting, interesting, and useful.
Let's check some out.
SearchMe is a visual search engine where the results displayed are actually images of the website (reminds me a lot of Windows Vista AERO 3D Tabs). My first query on Live Mesh did not work out very well - there were a lot of results that were not too relevant and the visual search tool was tough to understand (need some higher-resolution images).
On the flip side, I had great success when searching for Amazon Elastic Cloud Computing. Sites I was told to look at included Enomaly's info on EC2, ODE's original news release about EC2, and Web Strategist's guide to EC2.
The information from SearchMe was pretty good, but the interface is gimmicky. It forces to click on links and it opens them in news windows, which is pretty annoying. SearchMe is a great example of something unique that is fun to visit but does not add value or efficiency.
Cognition is a Wikipedia search tool that helps you answer specific questions (instead of trying to find a specific page). It displays results from a variety of pages, not just one. My best query was What is SalesForce AppExchange?". When you click on a result, it takes you to the Wikipedia page and provides color-coded highlights related to your query. Awesome stuff!
Cuil claims to be the world's biggest search engine and specializes in ranking pages based on their precision instead of popularity. I am not really sure how Cuil could have a database three times as large as Google's, but I guess I will take their word for it. When you first get to Cuil, it looks like a very simple search engine based on its relatively basic front page. After you click 'Search', that feelings of simplicity quickly disappears.
The results page is far from ordinary. Besides the fact it displays results very elegantly and the information is relevant and useful, the interface is extremely smooth (speedy & agile). I really liked how it groups alternative things you can search for (Google Base, Google Trends, Google Video) - but it searches for them within the original results. I was very impressed with how the "exploration" categories were not just related to the original search term, but also accurate macro-categories (Web 2.0, Silicon Valley, Search Engines).
SiloBreaker is a search engine that aggregates all sorts of multi-media results. The idea behind it is pretty cool, but I think the idea is a little too broad. The search result pages are extremely overwhelming and unfortunately the content is not very precise. For example, my query on Live Skydrive produced just about nothing about the topic. I got a very interesting link about Kumo (the rumored-but-really-official new name for Microsoft's Live Search) that sent me to a result page dedicated to the topic, search industry, and trends. In summary, the site is cool to try out, but nowhere near as "usable on a daily basis" as Cuil & Cognition.
Kosmix is another "other search engine" that displays results very similar to SiloBreaker. However, Kosmix seems to mix-in some elements of Mahalo into is result pages. Results are split into six categories: Basic Resources, People & Community, Shopping, Visual, News & Blogs, and Conversations. There is a lot to cover in one query, so I'll focus just on Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
Basic Resources - The Basic Resources section is split into three sub-areas: search engines, profiles, and references. Search engines are basic Google results, profiles uses Crunchbase data, and references pulls information from Wikipedia.
People & Community - The "social networks" element of Kosmix seems to be confusing. For this particular page, it displays book results about MS CRM. I think it's from GoodReads.com - which looks like a social networking reading place.
Shopping -Displays products (in this case, software and books) related to the query.
Visual -The Visual results need to be seen for one's self. The fact that it displays documents (PDFs, DOCs, and XLSs) about the topic is really cool.
Conversations - I've never seen a search engine use Yahoo Answers, so this was pretty unique. The results were not that relevant. I liked the Forum posts from OMGLIGI; but, forum post searches are pretty strange because the vast bulk of them are "in the deep web". Got a good post about SAP CRM vs MS CRM.
In a nutshell, one search from Kosmix can take about an hour to really take advantage of. I spent about 40 minutes browsing this one query which is a testament to Kosmix' depth, uniqueness, and preciseness. It's much more helpful for research about a topic than a random search though. Great tool.
One of the reasons you're at this site is to discover a vast array of ways to find and monitor information on the web. Hopefully the descriptions (and usefulness) of these five "alternative" search tools makes it very clear that to search effectively, you must go "beyond Google".