Metasearch engines: A smarter way to search? By Jay Dougherty

Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa
Published: Thursday September 28, 2006

By Jay Dougherty, Washington- Which search engine is better - Google, Yahoo, or MSN? The correct answer is actually "all of the above." Each of the major seach engines on the Internet indexes and presents information a bit differently. So why settle for the just one when you really need to unearth some important information from the web? With metasearch engines, you don't have to.

Metasearch engines - which query multiple major search engine sites simultaneously and present you with the results - have become better than ever.

In the past their interfaces were clunky and difficult to use. Now they've quietly become as streamlined - and as versatile - as the best of the biggies. Here's an overview of what's available.

Dogpile gives you search results from Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask.com - the major search engines in use today. And it does so almost as quickly as you'd get results when using any of those search engines by itself.

Dogpile doesn't break down search results by search engine. Instead, it presents the results as you really need them - in standard form as though all of the links came from Dogpile's indexes themselves. The metasearch engine automatically strips out duplicates from its list of results and ranks listings by the frequency in which they're found in the major search engines. Following each result is a description of which of the major search engines the result was found.

Like Google, Dogpile's interface is clean, and you can initiate a search for images, audio, videos, news, and more - just by clicking a link above the search box before clicking "Go Fetch" - Dogpile's term for "search." There's even a Dogpile toolbar available for download.

Metacrawler (http://www.metacrawler.com) and Ixquick (http://www.ixquick.com) are two grand-daddies of the metasearch tool world. Both accept more sophisticated searches, using, for example, wildcard characters, boolean operators, and parentheses, but Metacrawler has made those features easier to use for novices than Ixquick, offering an "advanced" mode that allows you to qualify searches easily by filling in form fields rather than having to remember arcade expressions or use special symbols and words.

Metacrawler also returns results faster than Ixquick. Ixquick, however, is available in many languages, and choosing a language from Ixquick's spartan main screen is a one-click affair.

Vivisimo (http://vivisimo.com) offers an interesting twist when it presents its search results. In addition to the standard listing of links, Vivisimo automatically breaks down results by category, allowing you to more easily drill down to find related results if you wish. The category breakdown is presented to the left of the standard search results, so you don't need to use this feature if you don't need it.

But chances are you'll find the category breakdown useful. A search for "Shakespeare," for instance, will give you categories such as "biography," "resources," "shakespeare theatre," "quotes," and more. Click on one of those categories, and you'll get relevant links. This can be a very handy way to find specific information about a topic without having to figure out exactly the type of words you need in your search term.

In the category of "most innovative," KartOO (http://www.kartoo.com) must certainly be the winner. This metacrawler presents visual search result "maps," with the main search result in the middle, surrounded by visual representations of related pages. Along the left-hand side of the search results page is a more typical tree view display of results.

Allow your mouse button to hover over a thumbnail in Kartoo's visual map of results, and the left hand pane gives you a larger thumbnail of the page, along with a description of its content. You can save some time by getting a glimpse of a site before clicking on it.

Mamma (http://www.mamma.com) calls itself "the mother of all search engines, and it's indeed as quick and comprehensive as the best. Mamma does the job that most require: searches all major search engines at once and gives you a ranked list of results quickly.

Mamma ranks its results by counting how many times a particular web site turns up in the major search engines. Duplicate results from more than one search engine aren't "discarded," as with some metasearch engines. Instead, a duplicate result counts as a "vote" for the site, putting it higher up on the list of results you get for a search term.

Copernic Agent (http://www.copernic.com/en/downloads/index.html) is an alternative metasearch tool that is not web-based at all. Copernic is an application that runs outside of your web browser but acts just like a metasearch engine. It can query virtually all of the web-based search engines, as well as innumerable specialised databases to present you with only the most relevant results to your query. Copernic comes in several versions, one of which is free.

There are disadvantages to all meta-search engines, and these drawbacks lie in the engines' approach to searching. First, Most metasearch engines only "visit" each database for a short period of time and retrieve an average of only 10 per cent of the results of each database queried. This approach sacrifices quality of searches to speed, but often the top ten results from each search engine queries are good enough.

Another potential disadvantage is that most metasearch engines simply pass your search terms along, and if your search contains more than one or two words or very complex logic, most of that will be lost. Essentially, you'll want to limit your search terms to very short, specific phrases - the type that just about any search engine will accept.

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa