Controlling the Chaos: New, Better Options for Internet Searching
There’s nothing more central to the Internet than searching for what you need, and there’s nothing that changes at Internet speed as much as Internet search sites.
The Internet search industry is in a state of upheaval. Familiar names are losing their usefulness, in some cases with top management bailing out. Meanwhile, upstarts are trying to buy your patronage. Fortunately, a few standouts are eminently click-worthy.
Web old-timers, many of whom are still in their 20s, probably remember Yanoff’s List, the first widely used compilation of useful Internet destinations, created in 1991. It bit the dust in 1995 when overtaken by Yahoo, which went on to make billionaires of its creators, Stanford University Ph.D. students David Filo and Jerry Yang.
Yahoo <http://www.yahoo.com> has remained the dominant Web directory, organizing the vast stretches of cyberspace into a semblance of a library card catalog.
Unfortunately, Yahoo as a search tool has lost its own way recently as the company has diversified into a dizzying array of other Net activities, including but not limited to shopping, business-to-business e-commerce, Web e-mail, Web hosting, Web telephony, streaming video and multimedia software.
You’re better off going elsewhere if you’re looking for good Web sites. Many key sites aren’t included in Yahoo’s categories, some of its “Most Popular Sites” are wildly esoteric and site submissions to it may never show up.
A smarter choice for browsing categories of sites is a newer service called Open Directory Project <http://www.dmoz.com>. Spearheaded by Netscape, now a part of America Online, it has a database useful enough to be licensed by AltaVista, HotBot, Lycos and MetaCrawler, among some 100 other sites.
AltaVista <http://www.altavista.com> is another early big name in the Internet search game that is experiencing a loss of stature. It was the first popular pure search engine, relying upon technology instead of people in sending its automated “spiders” to crawl through the Web and index what they found.
Search engines such as AltaVista were and still are better at finding narrowly defined information, while directories such as Open Directory Project and Yahoo are better at presenting broad categories of information.
Despite its promising start, AltaVista suffered from a dearth of investment early on, and it has been superseded by newer search engines that return more relevant results.
The hottest search engine today is Google <http://www.google.com>. It uses sophisticated technology that returns site results based on the number of other sites that link to specific information on a site.
The end result: an uncanny ability to turn up what you’re looking for.
So confident is Google that it includes an “I’m Feeling Lucky” option. Google will take you directly to the site it feels is most relevant.
Some new search sites are trying to gain your surf-time by throwing money at you.
The leader here is iWon.com <http://www.iwon.com>. Backed by CBS, it has extensively advertised on television its $1 million a month sweepstakes giveaways. In aggregating news and other content to encourage users to stick around and read ads, it’s better as a “portal” than a search site.
But so far iWon’s strategy seems to be working — it’s now the 21st most visited Web site, according to the latest numbers from Media Metrix. And it’s good to its word, recently awarding its 12th million-dollar monthly prize to a New Jersey resident.
Despite recent advances, searching through the Internet’s murky depths is still an inexact science, and it sometimes pays to use more than one search site. You can do this automatically with a “metasearch” site. After you type in your search terms, it sends them out to a number of search sites and compiles the results.
The best metasearch sites are MetaCrawler <http://www.metacrawler.com> and ProFusion <http://www.profusion.com>.
Finally, despite technological wizardry, sometimes you can’t beat a human touch. AskMe.com <http://www.askme.com> is one of a number of so-called expert sites whose volunteer staffers try to dig up information for you.
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