Alternative search engines to Google

I am making a personal effort to avoid using Google lately. If you’ve talked to me lately, you know why–and to be polite I’m going to keep my psychotic ranting and hating off my weblog. So, other than Google, what is there?

If you can remember the 90s, Alta Vista was the search engine that was all the rage. In my opinion, Alta Vista’s peak was when they were owned by Digital Computer Corporation, but it all went downhill when they split off into their own company during the dot-com boom of the late 90s. Today, Alta Vista clearly shows signs of neglect, and is not a very good search engine…

If you pay attention to the news, you’d know that Google does not like MSN Search very much: so much so that Google is suing Microsoft over search engine placement in Internet Explorer 7. I’m not so sure what Google is worried about, because if you use MSN Search for a while, you realize it’s not very good and doesn’t hold a candle to Google’s search results.

However, Microsoft’s “beta” search engine, Windows Live, is a different story. If Microsoft replaces MSN Search with the technology powering Windows Live, Google better start getting worried. Search results are a little bit more broad than Google, but still remain concise and accurate. Windows Live, however, has a totally horrible UI. It’s awful! It’s the definition of when you go overkill with AJAX and DHTML. Besides being slow, it does not work too well with Mozilla Firefox, and my personal pet peeve: it uses low-contrast greys and blues in its design, so it can be a strain to read anything.

Fortunately, you’re not forced to use Windows Live’s interface, because there a few partners using their search results. Amazon’s A9 search engine now fetches results from Windows Live, and its UI is great. For some hard-to-quantify reason I like its UI more than Google’s.

Last but not least is Alltheweb. Bought by Yahoo a few years ago, Alltheweb has always delivered great search results, but was too little to be really compete with the big boys. Being small, they’ve had some interesting innovative features, such as custom CSS for those who want to customize how their search results look.

Yahoo is continuing the the tradition, especially with Alltheweb’s Livesearch. Unlike Windows Live, Alltheweb’s Livesearch uses AJAX in quite a slick way, providing a unique search UI that is focused on providing suggestions, similar to Google Suggest, but better.

So, what do I use for my Google-free web searching? Mostly, Amazon’s A9, as well as Alltheweb when I feel like it.

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Comments

Tieming's picture

A crucial problem is what is your standard to evaluate a search engine. If the search engine is not slow, then, for me, I will pay attention to the search result, the order of elements in the result list. If you try some examples, you will find that the order of a search result of Google is better than MSN search or Windows Live. Google is better in the way that it will put the most related results at the top of the list.

Samat's picture

Hrm, yeh, I wasn’t very clear with my criteria in evaluating… The best I can say is that I think they are better.

Searching the web is a science of heuristics, not algorithms. There’s no way to prove a result is correct, because there isn’t a mathematical way to say something is “relevant” to something else.

Because no one can prove a search result is correct, and that Google has basically been the best search engine for nearly the past decade, the best I can say is that these search engines are as good as Google. Take the list of results from Google, and compare them to the list generated from AlltheWeb or Windows Live/Amazon A9: they’re pretty similar. This is not a good method for comparison but is the best I can come up with.

Whether you think a “relevant” or “best”result is near the top is a little subjective–I could say the same about AlltheWeb or Windows Live. I also find order of results not so important, because I almost always have to end up going through all the hits of the first page, not necessarily the first few.

You neglected to mention features and UI. Like I mentioned in the article, for some reason I like Amazon S9’s and AlltheWeb’s UIs better than Google’s. AlltheWeb’s LiveSearch is up there on the most interactive search engine UIs I’ve ever seen, much better than anything I’ve seen from Google.

So, basically, they’re not Google, and that I think they are better, is enough reason for me to use them.

Anonymous's picture

I was a big google user and advocate until they started becoming evil. Now I use ask.com. It’s comparable if not better than google! The ask.com mapping is cool because you can specify multiple locations. They were the first and might still be the only ones providing that. I also prefer their search listing results format.