Technology

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New Search Engines Show Companies Haven’t Given Up Fighting Giants

May 22, 2009 05:00 PM
by Emily Coakley
Google’s dominance hasn’t stopped other companies, big and small, from starting new search engines and trying to improve on the Web search experience.

Fresh Assault on Google Begins

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Along with the hype surrounding Wolfram Alpha’s launch this week comes news on Microsoft’s top-secret search engine, which CNet’s Ina Fried said is known as Kumo. Fried’s Beyond Binary blog reported recently that “[f]or the past two months, Microsoft has been running an internal test of the technology,” and adds that “some of the design changes that are part of that update are now in limited public testing.”

But Kumo and Wolfram Alpha are just two in a sea of search engines that are trying either to compete with or complement Google. A recent BusinessWeek article describes some of them. The common denominator in Aardvark, Wolfram Alpha and others is that the engines rely on people, not just algorithms or programming, to organize, offer or add insight to the search results. Aardvark, BusinessWeek says, “lets people send questions by instant message or e-mail to friends whose social networking profiles show they’re knowledgeable about particular subjects.”

Wolfram Alpha has a 250-person staff that “culls government and other public databases and crunches the data so they can be presented quickly as useful facts and figures,” BusinessWeek reported.

But some disagree over how to describe Wolfram Alpha. Nova Spivack, CEO of the search company Twine.com, told NPR’s “On the Media” that Wolfram Alpha is an “answer machine,” not a search engine, according to findingDulcinea.
The latest figures from Nielsen, though, suggest that other search engines still have their work cut out for them. According to Nielsen Online, Google accounted for 64 percent of all Web searches in April. Its closest competitor, according to Nielsen’s figures, is Yahoo, which accounted for 16.3 percent of all searches. Nielsen Online says Google Search grew 7.8 percent between April 2008 and April 2009, while Yahoo Search dropped 2.8 percent during the same period.

But financial site The Street drew a negative conclusion for Google, citing similar data from a company called comScore. ComScore compared search volume from March 2009 to April 2009. That site’s figure for Google last month was close to Nielsen’s, but comScore said that Yahoo Search had 20.4 percent of all searches. According to comScore, Google gained .5 percent of search volume from March 2009 to April 2009, while Yahoo lost .1 percent.

The Street interpreted that data as bad for the search giant: “Google’s marketshare gains have remained largely stagnant in the past four quarters.” The column, called “Tech Rumor of the Day,” went on to say that Google’s search had taken quite a bit of traffic from Yahoo Search in the last few years, “and now the concern among Google investors is that Yahoo may be able to start winning back Internet advertising business.”

The May 18 press release from comScore offered no 2008 data for comparison.

Related Topic: Getting search engines to read minds

MIT’s Technology Review explains semantic search, which is thought to be a next step in the evolution of search engines.

“Semantic search technologies promise to help … by returning more relevant information based on an understanding of the relationships between different words,” Erica Naone wrote last month.

She described software released in April called Content Intelligence, and how it was demonstrated with a health-related search. The software, made by a company called Netbase, “presents the user with answers to common questions. For example, it shows a list of treatments and excerpts from documents that discuss those treatments.”

Netbase’s goal is to sell Content Intelligence to firms that want to improve “the quality of their results.” It isn’t a search engine on its own.

Earlier this month, CNet reported that Google and Yahoo have made moves toward offering semantic search. Google’s “Rich Snippets” is newer, and offers ratings and reviews for a restaurant, for example. Tom Krazit wrote that Google “has traditionally downplayed the importance of the Semantic Web.”

Background: The battle for search engine revenue

In 2004, a five-part National Public Radio series chronicled the history and future of the search engine. The series aired before Google became a publicly traded company, but by then it had become the top player in the search engine world. The series discussed optimizing search engines, and the problems they had with reading natural language. The example Rick Karr cited was someone typing “gay marriage” into a search engine; is that person looking for information on the debate or wedding planning?

Some things haven’t changed for search engines. For example, companies are still trying to figure out a way to access the “invisible” or “deep” Web. These are pages locked away in databases, or pages that “can be accessed only by a direct search (a search from within the site itself),” findingDulcinea said. Commercial search engines have a hard time reaching these pages.

Reference: Improve your Web searching

Learn more about effectively searching online with the findingDulcinea Guide to Web Search.

Find Web-searching resources for students in the findingDulcinea Students’ Guide to Web Search.

Parents and teachers can learn how to navigate the Internet more efficiently and help their children and students with the findingDulcinea Teachers’ and Parents’ Guide to Web Search.
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