Search Engines A La Mode

Now that so many old search engines on the Internet are defunct, and with the pre-eminence of Google, are there still other useful ways to search the Internet in a post-Google world?

As a moment of Internet nostalgia, can anyone still remember Magellan, Webcrawler and Excite? (Sometimes you can still go to dead search engine sites, and search, but they’re actually an ubiquitous search service originally called Overture (now bought out by Yahoo) which sells positioning to advertisers and is partially based on the more traditional Inktomi search engine.)

Infoseek is gone, and the old Lycos, and Northern Light as a general public search engine. The old Altavista is gone as is Hotbot. Hotbot still exists but is now based on Yahoo and MSN. Teoma and Wisenut are both gone.

The ancient search engine business is a little hard to follow with all the corporate shifts and repackaging.

But there is a new generation of search engines now, often more graphically oriented, striving for innovation that at least in some small way offers an alternative to Google.

Search Engine Share UKIn no way am I any kind of search engine expert, other than that I use them a lot. Sometime I do complicated boolean searches with lots of ORs and wild cards (on the engines which support that). And I use Google often because it does seems to be the most wide ranging general purpose engine to cruise the net.

Too much SEO going on…

But I do get impatient with all the search engine optimization (SEO) you get on Google sometimes. People and companies work hard to figure out how best to use Google’s methods to rate their site, preferably to get their product or idea up as high as possible when searched, and sometimes what you see is the result of a lot of high-powered brains manipulating the system as best they can for their benefit, and not my search. The beggars.

That’s why I like the search engine Shmoogle, which I mentioned just last post. Shmoogle doesn’t give a damn about your search engine optimization strategies. It just mixes everything up and you might see the 500th entry in Google as the first in Shmoogle for your search. Or the 250th or the 11th… It can take some patience to use, but sometimes you can find just that right search result.

I’m going to try the same search string on a few of the new and interesting search engines and see what we get. The search string can’t be too general or too specific. OK, something I’m interested in at the moment is the use of neutral density filters in photography, especially the heavier kind up to six stops of compensation and longer exposure times, often used in photographing water. Let’s use “neutral density filter photo” (in case there’s some kind of non-photography industrial use of a similarly named filter).

In Google we do get some good offerings in the first three: Wikipedia and a couple of discussions on graduated neutral density filters. At the moment I’m not interested in the graduated kind. (By the way I learn that you can put two polarizing filters together to get an infinitely variable neutral density effect.)

search engine webLet’s try Shmoogle: The very first entry (no. 354 in standard Google) is from the blog archive from on The Truth About Neutral Density… An exposĂ©! I will have to come back to that. The next one is no. 259 on graduated ND and the third one again (no. 532) looks fruitful, Photography: Neutral Density Filter Tips and Techniques.

A fairly new search engine that aspires to come up to Google’s level is Exalead. I have liked it in the past because it has a more graphically based interface. You see large thumbnails of the search results which helps to avoid the retail ones if you’re not interested in those. Unfortunately, it seems lately to be falling prey to too much SEO or out-and-out sponsorship.

On this search we get, as the first entry (below the sponsored ones), “How can i make a neutral density filter for my Stobes?” What is a Stobes, some kind of exotic camera, perhaps, you ask? I couldn’t figure it out either. I think the writer meant “strobes” as in strobe lights but I could be wrong.

After the first few entries, we get a lot of commercial entries trying to sell me. Don’t use Exalead much anymore. My general attitude towards rating search engines is simple: give me information, not products.

Another up and comer, and even more graphical, is Searchme. It is nicely laid out and I like the user interface a lot. It’s like turning pages as you go through the results of your search. In this case, the first page is from a photo blog about graduated ND filters, not quite what I wanted but still interesting enough to read and get me thinking, “Maybe I need a graduated one now…” but then I realize that High Dynamic Range (HDR) digital methods will do the same thing.

The second site found is from Amazon, which can be useful, but commercial sites are unwanted in this search as in most of my searches. The third is more back to the subject at hand, with a discussion of split or graduated ND effects in GIMP, the open source application similar to Photoshop.

In the same graphical vein is another visually oriented engine called Viewzi. This gives you the choice of various kinds of search output from Web Screenshot View to Timeline View to 3D Photo Cloud View and many others, from a combination of Google and Yahoo. Unfortunately, many of the top results are commercial or wikipedia. It’s not until well down the text list page that a tolerably informative piece on essential filters shows itself.

Search clouds

Coming back to the “cloud” idea in search engine results, which is a way of clustering results showing the most prevalent or weighted in a visual clump or cloud. One good example of this is Quintura which I’ve mentioned before. Although again it is based on the same old Google and Yahoo search engine and database, the nice thing about it is that as you click on a topic of interest in the cloud, a new relationship of terms in a graphical space springs up. You may find that you’ve come to a different place than you would have through a series of standard Google searches.

Katie-s-Search-Engine--27826A newer search engine using the cloud concept is Searchcloud. As you enter your search terms, you can give a weighting to each so you develop a custom made tag cloud that you use to search. In this case I gave the most priority to “neutral” and “density” and less so to “filter” and “photo.”

In the top five results, I got three commercial. But the two informative ones that came up, Photo Term Series #18: Graduated Neutral Density Filter and Decoding Neutral Density Filter Designations seemed quite interesting, so I didn’t mind too much.

Specialized and, well, different…

So there’s a few of the current alternatives to Google… But I can’t go without mentioning briefly a few of the more specialized or wierder search engines.

If you’re looking for images, there’s Picsearch and Faganfinder. The latter, especially, offers a raft of different image sources.

If you’re wondering if there’s any kind of useful forum discussion on a topic, there’s Omgili. On photographic topics especially, forums are a useful source of information on cameras, techniques and tutorials.

A interesting, if slightly off-the-wall idea is Tallstreet which I haven’t tried yet. The concept is to trade search results like a stock market. Make recommendations and help out your favourite websites by making “investments” in them. Basically, the most recommended websites get the higher exposure. One becomes a “trader” on the search engine…

There’s cRANKy, the first “age-relevant” search engine. Grokker and Kart00 are two search engines trying different visual ways of imparting search information.

Seeqpod uses unique algorithms based on methods from biological science to hunt down podcasts.

If you’re looking for some random noises for your next soundtrack, try out FindSounds.

If you like wierd and bizarre, try out The Wierd, Strange and Bizarre Search Engine… For instance, there I found reference to the Aquaggaswack, a musical instrument described as made of 29 hanging pot lids scrounged from friends and a gong tree, with a “wide sonic palette.” On that page, you can even listen to this musical creation… It sounds pretty good, with a backing band.

If you want to explore the wide world of search engines further, the site Alt Search Engines is a good place to start. (If you use the Firefox browser there’s a good article on the different plug-ins available….)



Note on image sources —

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Explore posts in the same categories: Culture, Internet, Photography

2 Comments on “Search Engines A La Mode”

  1. forestrat Says:

    Thanks for this info.

    I’m tired of Google too and would like to find something else, but when I’m looking for something I’m always in a hurry and Google is the first thing I grab. I used to use Alta Vista all the time and I miss it.

    One of the things I really hate is when I am looking for the solution to a particular computer error and Google returns pages to me that are just lists of page links that “might” be similar. It is also a pain when it returns links to pages that cannot be accessed without paying a fee or joining a club or something.


  2. fencer Says:

    Hi forestrat,

    Yeah that one gets me too… an interesting reference that the search engine was able to look at and catalog but you can’t. Actually, I came across somewhere a while ago a method to access those subscription sites the same way Google does to catalog them… I’ll have to dig that out.


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