Looking For What's Missing In Web Search
I've been a satisfied Google user for years--starting not too long after I became the second writer at the Post to write about the site in January of 1999. (Pretend I just said that in a Grandpa Simpson voice.) But for today's column, I thought I'd make the site earn my business from scratch * by testing it against its three biggest competitors: IAC's Ask.com, Microsoft's Live Search and Yahoo.
(Disclaimer number one: IAC chief executive Barry Diller sits on The Washington Post Company's board of directors. Disclaimer number two: My sister-in-law is a recent Google hire and works on the company's Google Checkout product.)
The "let's try a bunch of search engines out" article used to be a staple of my line of work, but I haven't done that piece in years. It was instructive--if, OK, a little boring--to fire off query after query at each of these sites to see what they delivered, and how they displayed this info. I found that Google exhibited a distinct advantage at locating the truly obscure Web pages; Gene Weingarten is right to treat it as the all-knowing oracle of the Internet. (You can hear more details about some of the test searches I ran in today's podcast: listen/subscribe/iTunes):
But I also found some things that Google could improve. I also realized that all of these sites still have problems figuring out when I'm browsing the Web as just a reader--not a buyer. Using a search engine to seek out unbiased info about something that happens to be a product or service available for sale can be like walking into a store with the world's pushiest salespeople.
Now here's my question for everybody: Are you using a search engine that's not the default choice in your Web browser? If so, which one did you pick and why? Let me know in the comments--or stop by my Web chat at 2 p.m. today, when we can discuss this in more depth.
* This is a good thing to do with any service you've used for years, whether it provides you with TV, Internet access, phone service, a credit card or a checking account: Step back, see how it compares with the current alternatives and decide if any of them make a stronger case for your patronage.
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