I’m a big fan of Google when it comes to online research. Apart from being the best known and most widely used search engine, it offers some valuable add-ons including Google News, Google Scholar and Google Books, as well as useful features such as a built-in calculator, translator, and currency converter. It also comes with a useful image search which allows you to search for copies of an image online, or to search for images based on criteria such as colour scheme and type of publishing licence, something I must blog about in the near future.
But this post is not about Google. Search engines, like most things, benefit from diversity because competition drives innovation, which in turn benefits users. So, it makes sense to broaden your search horizons from time to time if you want a greater choice of results. Plus, while Google is very good at what it does, there are other ways to search for information, particularly on breaking and trending stories. Here are a few alternatives which I have found useful.
Wolfram Alpha is a computational knowledge engine rather than a conventional search engine. In practical terms, this means that if you ask a question this engine will give you an answer, whereas a search engine will deliver a list of web pages which may contain the answer. It is particularly useful if you are asking a question which is likely to have a definitive answer. Googling the query in this example will deliver a series of links to articles which you then have to click through to find an answer, whereas Wolfram Alpha will deliver an answer without the need to click through results.
Wolfram Alpha also offers personal Facebook analytics which can offer some interesting insights into your Facebook network. And it’s fun.
If you are searching for information on a breaking story, or don’t want to wait for Google or other search engines to index new pages on a subject, then obviously Twitter is the first place you will find that information. Twitter search is more powerful than you might think — it offers advanced search options, and you can further refine the results by using a number of search operators.
Twitter isn’t just a great source for breaking information — you can use its powerful search function to mine historic tweets as well, with every tweet ever published available through advanced search.
Bing is arguably the most visually appealing search engine — it features a background image which changes daily — and offers many of the same features as Google, such as currency and unit conversion and flight information. Where Bing excels is in its extremely user friendly image search, which allows you to filter images by attributes such as size, colour, aspect ratio and facial features [while Google offers a good range of filters they are hidden away in advanced search]. Another very nifty feature is its video search — mouse over a video thumbnail and Bing will play it in preview mode.
eTools is one of the largest metasearch engines. It searches up to 12 search engines and databases including Google, Google Scholar, Bing, and Wikipedia. Based in Switzerland, it searches the Swiss versions of the major search engines by default, but this does not seem to have any adverse effect on the results.
If you can recommend some useful search alternatives to Google that I have missed, I’d love to hear about them.