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Surajeet Das Gupta |
March 10, 2005
Thank you, Google. After all, you have made searching on the Web for information just a few clicks away.
But we sometimes wish that we were not bombarded with so much of information, much of it irrelevant. How wonderful it would be if we could go to a search channel that your children could use without chancing upon adult pages.
How much more wonderful it would be if we could pick up relevant stuff from our desktops or the intranet in the office.
Not to worry, help is at hand. Search engine companies, including the big boys like MSN and Google, are paying heed to your need (not because they're that thoughtful, but because competition for eyeballs is becoming fiercer).
Search engine companies are introducing new technologies that are trying to get closer to the key customer requirement -- understanding as exactly as possible what the user is looking for and offering him only relevant information.
Here's a look at what is on offer for those with different specialised information needs and at what you might not know is available in popular search engines like Google or MSN, both of which have launched several new search engines in the last few months.
MSN and Google: Microsoft which undertook a study of search engine users came out with some startling revelations. Forty per cent of users said they did not find the material they were searching for; 50 per cent of the information that a user requires is available either on his desktop or in the office intranet, but he cannot find it.
Last but not least, a majority of users were using the search engine to look for one paragraph of factual information.
Says Krishna Prasad, head of programming at MSN India: "The whole effort of MSN is to leverage the company's software strength to offer relevant information from various sources."
So MSN has integrated the Encarta encyclopedia with its search engine. Users can get basic information by pressing a button. The advantage, Prasad says, is that users do not have to dig deep, as they have to in other searches, to get the relevant information.
MSN has also introduced a desktop search engine which scans all your files and e-mail as well as attachments and Powerpoint presentations and delivers what you need at one place.
Prasad says the ultimate goal is to give the search engine the ability to scan a company's intranet and draw out information. Eventually all these search engines (desktop and the Web) will converge into one.
If you're looking for an article written a year ago, you might face a serious problem because you may have to dig deep in the search list to be able to discover what you want. To resolve this problem, MSN offers a "feature search builder" which can be customised according to your requirements.
So you can choose from a variety of options on the search: really latest, really popular, really old, updated recently, updated long time back, exact matches and approximate matches.
The advantage is clear: the search results are refined to meet your specific needs. Also, you can limit the search to a certain language.
On Google, check out Froogle, a new engine for searching on the Web for products. Product search results are also linked to the sites of participating merchants. At the moment it is more useful if you are looking at stuff in the United States (searching for products in India will yield limited results). But remember, this is just the beta version.
Google has also launched Google Scholar, which scans research and academic papers across the globe, including pre prints (a must for the academically oriented, especially as there is so much information available on university and academic Web sites which are not tapped properly).
You could also try Google Movies, Google Video (search for TV programmes -- this is being tested on only a few channels) and Google desktop which, like MSN, searches your desktop for files like Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and Internet Explorer.
For photo buffs who want to manage and search for photo files on their personal computers, Google offers Picasa 2. Software that has to be downloaded helps you instantly find, edit and share all the pictures on your personal computer.
Every time you open Picasa, it automatically locates all your pictures (even ones you forgot you had) and sorts them into visual albums organised by date with folder names you will recognise.
You can drag and drop photographs to arrange your albums and make labels to create new groups. Picasa makes sure your pictures are always organised.
Indian search engines: If you are looking at information only in Indian sites, check out Sify's Khoj.com. Says Piush Jha of Sify.com: "We are number one and have a significant NRI traffic, with millions of pages of viewing every month."
Khoj chooses the directories, not by using any automated machine but by editors who specialise in areas like education and news.
Jha says that this helps in filtering search sites for users and makes them more relevant to what a surfer wants. The company's editors scan over 100,000 sites.
Surfers too suggest new sites that they should look at (about 100 suggestions come in every day). The information is also filtered by the fact that only Indian sites are gone through so that only relevant material is thrown up. Jha says the company is looking at also introducing a desktop search in the near future.
Meta search sites: Most surfers will be familiar with meta search engines. They are the mother of all search engines, because they scan a whole host of other search engines and provide you with information.
Of these, the most popular is Dogpile.com. The site uses the support of a virtual retriever which gets into a bevy of sites like Yahoo, Google, LookSmart and Find What.
The technology of the engine ensures that you will not get duplicated results (these are removed from the search results). The other meta search engine which is becoming quite the rage is Vivisimo.com.
Founded by three Carnegie Melon University computer scientists, Vivisimo has launched a new service, Clusty, which offers an innovative way for users who find it increasingly difficult to navigate through the plethora of search results they are bombarded by search engines.
Clusty breaks down and categorises the search results into topics or folders which are to be seen on the left side of the page so that a surfer can pick up what is relevant from it rather than scanning all the search pages and wasting time.
So if you search for the Indian Budget 2005, you will get the searches in various categories like full text, tax, finance, railways and health. If you want the full text, or what the Budget has done in the health sector, you will get the information in a jiffy.
Other meta searches present the search results visually in a map. For this, go to kartoo.com. The search site analyses your request and displays the best sites, placing them in a visual map.
When you scroll to the key words, a brief description of the site is seen. You can also refine your search if you want to.
Search engines for children: Using the more common search engines to get information for children may not be easy. After all, you can't flood them with an overload of information and you'll have to ensure that they are not confronted by pornography when they use a search engine.
Thankfully, search engines provide some exciting alternatives. Ajkids.com, a popular children's search engine from Ask Jeeves.com, provides answers to children's questions. Children ask questions to get information.
If a child asks questions like "Why does the earth move?" the search engine provides search results in categories -- how fast the earth moves, where you can see a picture of outer space, where you can find more information on earth and space and where you can get a daily update on the state of the planet.
What makes the search engine user-friendly is that it hires specialised editors who scan information and select sites that are relevant to children. Their choice is based on relevance, the quality of writing and whether it is an adult page or not.
Look too at ithakhi.net, the search tool created by molecular biologist Carla Tirona Farinati. Meant for children between the ages of 10-12 years, the meta search engine scans a number of search engines for children, including Yahooligans, Factmonsters, AOLKids, KidsClick and Awesome Library.
You could also try Yahooligans, a search site aimed at seven to 12 year olds. The sites in the search are hand picked to ensure they are appropriate to the age that it is targeted. Again, you don't have to worry about any adult or objectionable material creeping in.
References books, news: If you are looking for information from reference books and libraries, you have an array of choices.
Wikipedia.com is a free encyclopaedia that offers you free content from over 486,000 articles.
You can join the club by editing and putting up information on the site. Biography.com, on the other hand, offers you information on over 25,000 popular personalities across the globe and is worth a try.
For those who are looking for more, try Infoplease.com (part of the United Kingdom's Pearson group) which answers factual questions by scanning encyclopaedia, almanacs, biographies and dictionaries.
Then there is lii.org, popularly known as the librarian's index, which searches over 14,000 resources which are selected and evaluated by librarians for their relevance to users of public libraries as well as librarians.
For news, you have the usual sites that include Google and Yahoo. But just try out MSN's new offering, newbot.msn.co. in: you could get hooked to it. It picks up news from over 4,800 sources and even tells you which are the most popular headlines which people are reading currently. What makes it attractive, claims Prasad, is the fact that the news is updated every 20 minutes. So you get what is hot.
These are not the only search engines for news. Daypop.com searches over 59,000 news sites for current events once a day. The engine also crawls into Weblogs to extract opinions and information on subjects too.
Sites for special interest surfers: Surfers with a special focus or interest such as golf could usefully look at golfhelp.com, a search engines that accesses 145,000 golf sites.If you are a women looking for information from sites dedicated to women, look at wwwomen.com. For those who want to download music free from the Internet, check out warez.com. You'll have to download software which is available free to listen to the music.