The next generation of search is arriving, if you know where to find it.
While we may have thought Google—with its roughly 70 percent share—had turned Web searching into a sleepy little area, the world of search has seen a dramatic change in the last year. New competitors like Microsoft’s Bing and whole new categories of search—such as real-time—are changing the way we find information. We face a surprising new question not many were asking a year ago: Is Google enough anymore?
There is a growing sense that search is both more important and less satisfying than it once was. In part we are seeing simple mathematics at work. How can a search engine return the 10 “most relevant” results as you search billions of webpages? Search engine optimization (the attempt to push your pages to the top of the list) also tends to skew results toward commercial pages. And several other factors are at play, including the increasing use of data files other than HTML text files, social media sites and the “invisible Web” of data that is accessible over the Internet, but can’t be indexed by search engines.
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Realistically, I don’t expect a sea change toward Google alternatives in the near future for at least two reasons. First, Google’s search works well for most general needs. Second, Google continues to tweak and improve what it’s doing; its new Caffeine effort is an experiment to improve search speeds and real-time results.
However, lawyers should develop a toolbox of search tools. There will be occasions where search tools other than Google will be a big help. Such as:
• Bing/Yahoo. The recent combination of Bing and Yahoo search engines has established a clear No. 2 general search engine. Bing offers some different approaches and can produce different results. You might even grow to prefer it.
• Twitter Search. The new area of search that has exploded in 2009 is real-time search, and the best example is Twitter Search. This search tool lets you see what people are posting on a topic on Twitter in real time. It’s a fantastic resource for breaking news.
• Specialty search. There will be times when what you are looking for is in a specialized area. Google has specialty search tools for blogs, video and images, and Technorati is another resource for searching blog posts. And there are many specialty search engines, including ones for travel, shopping and social media. Search Engine Guide will give you a sense of the great variety of these tools.
• Meta and mashup. If one search engine is good, wouldn’t searching several at once be even better? Metasearch engines like Dogpile, Clusty and Mamma let you use several search engines at once and aggregate the results on one page. A recent development in this area is mashup search engine interfaces. These sites let you see side-by-side results from several search engines, combine results from different types of search engines (like BingTweets), and use other creative combinations.
• Rollyo. An abbreviation of roll your own. Services like this let you create a search engine that searches just the websites you want.
• WolframAlpha. This new website is described as a finding engine rather than a search engine. WolframAlpha returns actual answers for your search request rather than just giving you a list of webpages that might have the answer.
• Human-assisted search. Longtime Web users will remember Yahoo started out as a human-created directory rather than a search engine. Mahalo is a recent example of reintroducing the human element to search. Another buzzword you will hear is curation. The idea is that humans can assist in the process and produce and present better results.
• Semantic search. The idea of the semantic Web is that webpages and files will contain descriptive data to assist in locating them. Semantic search tools will take advantage of this information and help you get better results. To get a taste, try SenseBot.
I worry, as should you, that a total reliance on Google will give you a limited or distorted view of the Web. You want to choose the best tools for the job at hand. It’s a new generation. Try out a few new search tools today and compare the results.