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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May, 2004, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Searching the search engines
BBC ClickOnline's Kate Russell looks at metasearch engines - services that collect results from other search engines and directories.

Google HQ
Google handles millions of search queries every day
How many of you bolted Google, Yahoo or Altavista to your start page several years ago and have never even thought about using an alternative search tool?

The web changes hourly, so making sure you are searching it with the latest, and most up-to-date service can make a big difference to the effectiveness of your search.

One way to take the worry out of choosing the right search engine is to use a metasearch engine like Dogpile.

The way a metasearch engine works is it sends your query out to a number of different search engines, web directories and indexing services, compiling the results into one list for you to browse through.

In the case of Dogpile, you can see at the top of the opening page that the list of searched directories includes many of the leading engines, and their metasearch technology uses intelligent filters to identify the intent of your search and return a more relevant list of ranked results.

Range of choices

There are many of these metasearch engines about, and for the most part the user interface is identical to any one of the search engines they are representing.

I like the simplicity of the front page for Search.com. Quite a lot of search utilities are cluttered up with features and directories, this one is clear and functional.

The list of engines and directories queried is impressive, and guaranteed to return a broad range of results.

Screenshot of Dogpile website
Dogpile is one of several services that compiles search results
And if you are just browsing around for something of interest, take a look behind the Top Searches link to see what other people are looking for on the web, it might give you some inspiration.

One of the downsides of using metasearch engines is that they are sometimes subject to timeouts, and often only return the top 10-50 hits from each source queried.

The Searchive offers a good alternative without losing any of the flexibility. It works in the same way as a metasearch engine, by querying external search engines, but it does them individually at your request.

Just type in your query and then use the drop down menu to select the source for your search. This can be really useful if you want to concentrate your search to one particular area to minimize irrelevant results.

Clicking on search takes you to a page of results from that source, but a search bar from Searchive remains at the top of your browser window until you click to remove the frame, so you can easily try another search engine or term.

One slight annoyance is that the original term you searched on disappears, so you have to type it in again if you want try another engine.

Web butler

If that all seems a little complex when all you want to do is find out the best way to boil an egg, then another old favourite is waiting to help you out.

Based on the famous butler Jeeves, created by PG Wodehouse, Ask Jeeves allows you to ask a simple human question, then derives from the words you have used what kind of query will work best.

Using the words "kind" and "of" without a search syntax to bind them into a phrase would turn up a gazillion random web pages in most standard search engines.

So if you are sitting there wondering what on earth a search syntax is anyway, then this engine might be the one for you.

In her second report to be published on Wednesday, Kate Russell will look at some of the alternatives to the big search engines


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