Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Search engine wars: let battle commence

Karen Blakeman, a UK information expert, talked about the warring search engines and developments in search at the INFORUM conference in Prague, from which I am selectively reporting. In the early days of the web I used to do regular seminars on business information sources and search engines, with detailed handouts. Karen's concentrated burst of updated information reminded me that I've got lazy, since I've stopped noticing all the changes on search engine screens, and thus probably haven't been using all the features.

Karen concentrated first on the "big 3" of Yahoo, Bing and Google. She started with focus on Yahoo, highlighting to the way it gave options for refining your search on he left hand side. It now uses Bing as its underlying search engine (a change). She liked the fact that it gave you a simply-presented search results page. However some people feel that it may not be developed much in future.
Bing, Microsoft's engine, by contrast, has had a lot of development. However, a lot of special features are only available on the US version. Special features include "recent tweets" "top shared links" and "related searches". Results tend to be more consumer-oriented. For Karen, who does business-related searches it was "information hell", since apart from the consumer-orientation, the search commands worked unpredictably.
Google adjusts results according to what you searched for in the past and searches also vary depending on the country you are searching from (I certainly noticed that searching here in Prague!). Features include "latest news" and if you are logged in to your "social circle" (social media) then results for that will be filtered in too. Various search options are shown down the left hand side after you have searched. Karen also talked about the wonder wheel function. (this is something about which I noticed very lively debate on the ili (US information literacy) list recently: people were suggesting using it to get people to think about search strategy). Karen identified issues with the refinements to do with the timeline feature, in that Google essentially grabs a date that looks prominent. These features were talked about in more detail by the next speaker at the conference, Vilem Sklenak.
Summing up: results are getting messier, in the engines' efforts to deliver more refinements. Social media results are increasingly being included, but are not comprehensive.
Therefore Karen talked about some alternatives: iseek - clusters into categories, and there is an "education" option; Biznar real time federated search of selected business sources, and it also organises into categories. It is a bit slower, but it is looking in the deeper web, so that is understandable. More specialised still were - oil and gas exploration; Chemspider; Healthmash (Karen was concerned that it filtered results too much and was doubtful about its top hits); "a better way of searching government statistics sites!".

Karen recommended Phil Bradley's powerpoint on searching social media sites at does indeed look excellent and was presented a couple of weeks ago. She did pick out, and

Karen's slideshare is at, her blog is at and her website with its information sources guide at
Photo by Sheila Webber (photoshopped): coffe and cake in Prague

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