• U.S.

Searching for Perfection

3 minute read
Anita Hamilton

First came flirtation, then excitement and infatuation. Finally, like millions of lost souls longing for a search engine to love, I settled into a committed relationship with the best on the Web: Google. But after a few years of going steady, I was getting bored. I still loved Google, and I admired how it had improved with age, adding vast collections of newsgroup archives, photos and PDF files. Google had long since outpaced old rivals like Altavista and Lycos. While MSN’s popular search feature works well, other Web powerhouses like Yahoo and AOL have adopted Google as their built-in search engine. But somehow the thrill was gone. The magic was missing. There must, I thought, be more to search than this.

As it turns out, there is, thanks to a new crop of upstarts that are putting the sizzle back into search. Google is still the best one-stop shop for fast, focused results, but the newest sites offer cool features that Google can’t yet match. And since every engine culls its results from a different (though often overlapping) pool of Web pages, it pays to search around. After all, you never know where that nugget of info you’ve been craving might pop up.

Among the top contenders:


Not only does AlltheWeb index more pages (2.1 billion!) than any other site, but it may have the smartest approach to turning up relevant results. Whereas Google runs a virtual popularity contest that pushes to the top of its list pages that are most frequently and prominently linked to by other sites, AlltheWeb, based in Oslo, Norway, further tries to decipher the intent of the query by analyzing its language patterns and identifying common phrases.

AlltheWeb updates its pages more frequently than other search engines (at least once every 11 days vs. 28 days for Google), so it tends to have the freshest information as well. Nice little extras like links to news stories related to your queries and photo, video and MP3 searches make AlltheWeb definitely worth bookmarking. Major flaw? Those distracting ads that pop up at the top of your search results. GRADE: A-


If there were a beauty contest for search engines, Kartoo–developed in France by cousins Laurent and Nicolas Baleydier–would win the crown. Rather than display its results in the usual dreary list format, Kartoo scatters them across a pretty blue background like stars dotting the evening sky. (Color-coded links suggest how the results interconnect.) Each dot represents a relevant Web page; when you rest your mouse over a site, it displays a brief description of the contents. The bigger the dot, the better the result is supposed to be.

Kartoo is actually a metasearch engine, which means that it sifts results from multiple search sites instead of doing the dirty work itself. Aesthetically it’s very appealing, but I found the searches slow, the format confusing and the results only so-so. A search on “strawberries,” for example, pulled up a list of terrific links with everything from recipes to growing tips, but a second on “coal miners” offered not a peep about the rescue of nine miners in Pennsylvania. Kartoo can be fun to play with, but only if you have time to dawdle. For serious searches, look elsewhere. GRADE: C

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