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When Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page first hatched the idea of Google in their Stanford dorm room in 1998 I doubt they knew what a good idea they had. Google is no longer just a search engine, for many, it is the primary way to find information on the Web. People don’t search any more, they “Google.” If you’re like most librarians, searching the Web has become one of your primary job functions. (your secondary tasks probably include email, and of course, meetings.) If you’re like me, when you’re searching the web, you’re using Google. Google’s not the only game in town, but it is clearly the search engine of choice for most librarians.
The busiest sites on the Web are mostly search engines, sites where people go to find “stuff.” They are searching for help with homework, passwords, the cure for cancer, and stolen credit numbers. They are trying to find a needle in a haystack. The tools they use to search with are becoming quite powerful, and the battle to be the best in the search engine business is giving the users an incredible array of tools from which to choose. Even though Google, has managed to become the clear choice for librarians today, others are trying hard to beat them at their own game.
Fast, the owners of AllTheWeb [alltheweb.com] recently announced they had indexed 2++ billion Web pages, just a few more than Google’s 2+ billion pages. While both numbers are probably impossible to verify, and there may actually be little difference between 2+ and 2.++ billion pages, it still says something about the Web search engine business today, and how Google has found it’s self at the top.
How we choose our favorite search engine is based on any number of things. AllTheWeb seems to be betting it’s the size of the database that counts, but I think it’s more than that, and I think Google has what most of us need. Google is simple, easy to use, and lightening fast. Add to that, an amazing search algorithm, the ability to search for PDF’s and other types of documents, and the ability to translate pages, and you’ll see why Google is the clear choice for most of my searches. They are free of banner ads, and most of the other clutter found on many of the other search engines. They not only avoid annoying pop-up advertisements, but they proudly announce it on the first page. They focus on what people want from a search engine, and not much else.
How quickly search results are returned and how useful those results are the biggest factors people cite in their search engine preferences, and Google does this well. While search results can depend on a number of things, like how much of each page is indexed, the search algorithm, and the kind of documents indexed, speed is measured in one way, the time we wait. Google is the only search engine to return the time you waited for your search right on the page
Google indexes PDF’s, RTF’s, PPT’s and Docs, as well as several other file formats not found on many other search engines. They have cached copies of web pages, which is a great way to read pages that have disappeared from the web, or even to rebuild a site that has since crashed (I know this first hand; I’ve done it myself.) They even translate pages from one language to another.
In focusing on one thing, searches, and not expanding into different areas like most search engines did during the 90’s Internet boom, Google has become a profitable company during a time when many companies, dot.com or not, have been struggling. They have resisted the temptation to become a portal, a shopping mall, in a desperate attempt to attract more users. They focus on making their search great, and not much more. People see a company focused on technology rather than making money, and they appreciate that.
More than just the search engine, Google is a company that seems to have a finger on the pulse of their users. They have received praise for the way they handle legal issues, popup ads, and the way they have avoided going public out of fear it will affect their work environment. The legendary Google offices and work environment are often reported as being the newest and perhaps the last geek hot spot for employment. Their site shows off the lava lamps, roller hockey games, and casual work environment that has made the company sought after for the multitudes of unemployed dot.commers out there. A recent story at ABC examined their Friday meetings, where engineers and executives hold brainstorming sessions to ensure they are constantly improving their results. Google recently reported getting over 300 resumes a day for just a few open positions.
The winner in the race of search engine superiority is no doubt the end user. We get better search results, faster, with fewer ads than ever before. As AllTheWeb and Google fight it out for our loyalty, we have much to gain. Both Google and AllTheWeb are profitable thanks to selling their search technologies to large corporations and government agencies for use on their web sites. The older search engines like AltaVista tried to make money through advertising or paid placement results, a strategy that has proved fatal for many companies. Which means the latest and greatest search engines may continue to be ad and clutter free for the future.
AllTheWeb is a good place to start if you have been seeing the web exclusively through Google’s eyes lately. It may not look much better, but you never know what you might turn up in those extra .8 billion pages and by using AllTheWeb’s different search technology. While numbers of companies are working hard to dethrone Google from the top of the heap, this may mean little in a few years, thanks to bots.
In the future, we may begin to use new personalized intelligent agents to find information. A few years from now I may be writing about the latest version of SmarterChild as being the best search agent available. SmarterChild [smarterchild.com] from ActiveBuddy, Inc., is a chat-bot that allows a user to ask questions and interact electronically via an instant messenger program, like AIM or ICQ. While they are currently limited in the amount of information and answers they supply, they are quite intelligent already, and looking into my crystal ball I can imagine a time where most informational reference questions are handled automatically by these bots, but, until that time, I’ll keep on Googling.