Hooked on search, thanks to new rivals

Hooked on search, thanks to new rivals

Looking for something on the web? Without the exact URL of a website it’s virtually impossible to find anything online … without the help of a search engine. So, I guess it should come as no surprise that ‘searching’ is on the developmental frontline for many companies.

The last few weeks alone have seen two high-profile additions to the searching stable – Bing and WolframAlpha. Both are vying with everyone from behemoth Google to small boutique engines that look for specific things, like photos, to metacrawlers that sift through other engines’ answers for their results.

It all started back in 1993 when the first real search engine was probably Wandex. The mantle of number one has passed between a few hands, from AltaVista to Yahoo! to Google, which is currently by far the most popular accounting for 63 per cent of all searches – or about a billion search requests a day.

Bing and WolframAlpha come with some pretty lofty expectations from the respective makers.

Bing isn’t exactly new, it’s a remake of Microsoft’s search engine. It’s promising simpler searching. Microsoft says that Bing will make search more relevant by “understanding the intention of searches, and grouping more related information to the original query”. So, for example, searches for a product will also bring links to reviews, accessories and online shops, as well as information about the item. Searches for flight information will pull schedules and times from websites, as well as linking to hotels and the weather.

Bing also has a less clinical feel than previous Microsoft search engines, with a daily changing backdrop image.

On the other hand, WolframAlpha claims to go beyond what traditional search services like Google, Yahoo and others do by “constructing new information by creating web pages that target answers to the queries”.

The results that it returns when a search is made are annotated pages of data rather than a simple list of other websites. For example, if asked about the weather in Wellington, it would present a graph of average temperatures, rainfall and other relevant data. It’s pretty cool.

The question remains, however, do either have enough to put a dent in Google’s search stranglehold? Bing’s changing background is a nice touch but, overall, it feels suspiciously like business as usual with a few different bells and whistles. Clearly, WolframAlpha’s middle name is ‘Different’ but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

I must admit, I’m a regular Google user. It’s my default searcher, the first one I turn to and, generally, it comes up with the goods. But as new applications come along, I am rethinking my approach. Now I’ll end up doing several searches … just to make sure I don’t miss anything.

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