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Last Updated: Monday, 22 March, 2004, 12:19 GMT
The contenders for Google's throne
Dot.life - where technology meets life, every Monday
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent

The web is packed with search engines, but for many users there can be only one. Google's rivals hope to change that.

For many web users, a search for something - anything - online used to be easy. You used Google.

Although Google may still rule the world of search, suddenly there are numerous contenders hoping to break its dominance.

Search tools have always been important to the way that people use the web, not least because of a sheer bulk of information to sort through.

But now a number of companies, among them Microsoft and Yahoo!, are getting more serious about search - they do not like losing their regular users to Google.

In late February Yahoo! stopped using Google in some territories. Instead, it started to push its own search engine, built around technology acquired when it bought the former Google rival, Inktomi.

Quick buck

One of the ways that Yahoo! hopes to set itself apart is by indexing some of the information that, currently, Google, does not look at.

It has set up a program to index many of the databases held at places such as the US Library of Congress, US National Public Radio, the National Science Digital Library and the Wikipedia online encyclopaedia. The idea is to give people more detailed results, as well as information they could not get any other way.

Similarly, MSN has started pushing its beta Newsbot search engine in the UK, France, Spain, and Italy.

This sudden interest in search can be put down to the huge amounts of cash involved. Many businesses depend on being noticed via Google and are prepared to pay for ads associated with particular terms. Companies such as Yahoo! and MSN want a bigger slice of this.

What you're looking for

Then there are the search engines that claim to outdo Google in giving the user what they want. This is because searching is no longer about indexing more of the web and serving up the longest list of results.

Google logo, Google
Google suddenly has more rivals
Instead, search has become something more subtle. Now people want the right results, not irrelevant webpages that have learned how to exploit indexing systems.

There is also a growing suspicion that systems which rely solely on ranking webpages by their content, as Google does, will prove less and less useful over time.

Other ways, such as including packaged results for certain terms that have been vetted by experts, are likely to win favour.

Ask Jeeves has set up Teoma which, it claims, can spot when a web community has formed around a particularly useful set of pages. It uses this to work out which sites are going to be the most useful.

Like Google, Teoma works via a search bar and its home page has a clean look with colours seemingly inspired by Google.

This engine is still under development but the company claims its search algorithms try to do a better job of understanding the psychology of search and, as a result, will give better results.

New tools

Then there is Eurekster, which combines the craze for social networking with search. It finds results by consulting the links and sites that a user's friends and colleagues find useful.

Binoculars, Eyewire
Searching depends on good tools
The downside is that to use this feature, users - and their friends and colleagues - must sign up.

Another alternative is Zapmeta, which uses tabs at the top of search results to let the user order the list by popularity, source, title and domain - not just relevance.

It also gives a snapshot of the pages returned for a search, allowing the user to eliminate those pages which are irrelevant.

Then there are the search programs, such as Enfish, Nelson E-mail Organiser and Bloomba that sort through the mounds of stuff that accumulates on the average home PC.

Also starting to emerge are programs that store and organise the webpages you want to save and lets you search through them easily.

All of which will lead to demand for a search engine which will allow us to search through all these search engines.




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