Search Engines

(updated 5 April 2002)

I'm a reference librarian by trade. That means, among other things, that I answer jobs for a living. And, as is the case with librarianship everywhere, my job has in the past several years become increasingly Internet-oriented. This is not just because people have the (obviously misguided) notion that everything can be found on the `Net, or just because the public tends to want information from the `Net, rather than from those stodgy, old-fashioned books. To a certain degree it's also due to the fact that vastly increasing amounts of information is available on the `Net, and that a good, experienced searcher can find information as quickly, if not more so, through an Internet search than through books.

I am that good and experienced searcher. I've been online, in one form or another, since 1984. I've been searching on the `Net since 1993. I've been doing this professionally since 1996. I'm good at this. And so you can take my word for it when I pass judgment on search engines. I use them every day, and I mean that quite literally. I'm online 10 hours a day at work and another 4-8 at home. I know what I'm talking about when I discuss search engines.

* All-Movie Guide Maybe even better than the Internet Movie Database (see below), although to be frank not a site I use with any sort of regularity. Still, definitely worth a look.
* AlltheWeb The second search engine I turn to. A very nice combination of quality and quantity, and they usually respond quicker than Google.
AltaVista It's not Google, but it's still pretty good. It's usually the third or fourth search engine I check; I find that Altavista is not as selective as Google or AlltheWeb, but brings more close hits than either. That is, the quality of the first ten to twenty selections at Google or AlltheWeb is better; the quality of the first hundred or so hits at AltaVista is better.
AskJeeves An interesting search engine that allows you to phrase your search requests in the form of a question. They search their own databases and perform searches on other search engines. However, AskJeeves is very much hit-or-miss. Depending on how you phrase your question and what you're looking for, you might get dozens of very apposite answers, or hundreds of responses that have nothing to
do with what you asked for. I use AskJeeves, but it is never my primary, secondary, or even tertiary search engine. It's more like the engine I use when the other engines fail me.
* CDnow CDNow remains the best online record store, despite their bad financial situation and the curious gaps in their databases. Their presence here, though, is because they are an excellent resource for searching out song, album, and band information. I don't buy much music over the Web--I'd rather support my local record store. But there have been numerous occasions when I've been online and wanted to know who sang, say, "Don't Pull Your Love Out On Me, Baby." When that happens, I can go to CDNow and find out that it was the quartet (trio? duo?) Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds.
* C4 Search Rather a good search engine.
CNET A good metasearch engine.
Direct Search A good page bringing together "search interfaces of resources that contain data not easily or entirely searchable/accessible from general search tools like Alta Vista, Google, or Hotbot."
* Dogpile One of the best of the metacrawlers; that is, search engines that run your search request through several search engines at once. It doesn't use the high-quality search engines I prefer, like Google or AlltheWeb, but if I'm in a hurry and need to cut corners with a brute force search, I'll use Dogpile.
* Google The first search engine I turn to, with the demise of NorthernLight, and the champion of them all. By their own standards they have indexed the most web pages of any search engine. This, as it turns out, is somewhat of a rhetorical cheat, but Google still has a very high number of pages indexed and still (usually) produces high-quality results. Their ability to search by language--that is, the language that a page is composed in--is a plus, as is their stripped-down (and consequently quicker responding) page design.
Google Groups Those of you who aren't on Usenet newsgroups will likely find Google Groups (formerly DejaNews) to be irrelevant. But anyone who is on a Usenet newsgroup simply must know about Google Groups, as it is the archive of all Usenet posts. Moreover, if you're searching for information you can sometimes find it on various Usenet discussions.
HotBot HotBot used to be the best search engine, but they didn't keep pace with the changing times and `Net, and their acquisition by Lycos did not, in my opinion, do them any favors. They're still good, but they're only about the sixth or seventh search engine I typically use.
* Internet Movie Database An excellent online guide to movies and tv shows--who acted in them, who directed them, etc. Simply a must-have for nearly anything movie- and tv-related.
* Ixquick Metasearch They call themselves the "world's most powerful metasearch engine." I dunno about that, but I'm usually pretty happy with the results they give me.
MapBlast! I use it strictly as a backup to MapQuest.
* MapQuest There is still no better resource on the web for getting directions and maps of places in the US. They are a basic resource for any reference librarian or searcher, and if you need directions or just a map of somewhere in the US or the EU, you should go here to get it. That said, I must confess that roughly one time in five (not just in my experience, mind you) Mapquest screws up, and not just a little bit. Four times in a row, they steer me right, but that fifth time can lead to getting disastrously lost. (I unfortunately speak from experience) So, depending on your level of confidence, you might want to doublecheck the results that they give you, especially if your trip is important to you. If you're unsure, use MapQuest.
Metacrawler A good metasearch engine.
NEW MetaEureka A decent metasearch engine, although its results are
Oingo An interesting metacrawler. Their results aren't half-bad, and I have no hesitations about recommending them.
Open Directory Project (DMOZ) One of the better search directories.
Roger Ebert on Movies Not a search engine, exactly, but very useful for finding reviews of films that have come out over the past 10 years.
WebCrawler A sort of uber-search engine. Not as good or thorough as Google, but still pretty decent. NEW Wisenut A halfway decent search engine, although not in the same class as the Googles and Fastsearches and Altavistas.
* Yahoo If you're listing search engines you have to list Yahoo, even though, properly speaking, they're an index. Still, enormously useful in any number of ways, and I find that I have success with their subject and geographic categories when other search engines fail me. But, again, they're an indexer, and they don't try or pretend to cover every page out there, so don't be surprised if they don't have what you're looking for.


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