How do you find what you are looking for online? Chances are that you use Google. According to Search Engine Watch, Google continues to be the search engine of choice accounting for 11.9 billion of the more than 18 billion searches conducted in October 2011. It's what I use, too, and Google seems to be everywhere – connecting us with each other and a world of information and resources through the Google+ social networking platform, communication services like Gmail, and as a portal to the web through the Chrome browser.
There have been recent cautions about relying on Google, or any single search source, to gather information. Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble, describes how our individual search results may be limited, beyond the filtering we intend when we conduct the search, as a part of the process of search algorithms. In his TED Talks presentation [video] Pariser illustrates how we each might receive different search results when using the same search terms and keywords. This kind of personalization can be helpful, but may also be limiting in terms of the types and sources of information made available to us.
You can expand your searches to include Bing or Yahoo. These are also popular tools and together accounted for 2.7 billion searches in October 2011. They offer easy alternatives to Google, but there are other options you should consider as well.
Six Search Alternatives
There are so many other options out there with new ones emerging and others falling offline on a regular basis. Some are more all purpose in nature, while others have a specific niche they are trying to address. And some search engines provide special features and different ways to search. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- CompletePlanet: "Discover over 70,000 searchable databases and specialty search engines" with CompletePlanet. Search results here include items pulled from the Deep Web, beyond the documents and information usually accessed by search engines. This site may also be safer for young students through its policy of excluding all pornographic sites from result listings.
- Ixquick: If you are concerned about your web searches and online privacy, this search engine allows you to conduct your search while protecting your privacy in a way that other search engines don't. Ixquick doesn't record your computer's IP address or track your searches using cookies. According to the most recent press release, the system also encrypts all searches to further protect your privacy.
- Mahalo: This web directory challenges us to "learn anything" by searching its how-to articles, topic pages, and a question and answer section. Results include links to relevant resources that are categorized by type, such as video, images, and pages. Related questions and answers from the Mahalo site are also included. There is a social component to this system as well – you can leave comments and easily share your findings via Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
- Mundu: Just one of the metasearch engines available, Mundu pulls results for your search from a collection of major search engines. Mundu also offers special search options for pages and documents, sounds on the web, videos, and music lyrics. This engine also boasts an easy-to-read results page with a minimalist layout.
- SweetSearch: Recommended by the Free Technology for Teachers blog, SweetSearch caters specifically to instructors and students, providing results that have been approved by their staff of researchers, librarians, and expert educators. This tool also features additional engines for specific school subject areas and interests, including social studies and biographies, and student levels, such as elementary school.
- WolframAlpha: This "computational knowledge engine" offers a different way to find the information you are looking for through series of calculations "that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries." The components of WolframAlpha's technology include linguistic analysis, curated data, algorithms and equations, and results presentations in visual and tabular formats. Take a look at the For Educators resources to find out more about the potential for use in online and on ground classrooms.
- How are the search results derived? This may happen with algorithms or other automated processes, or be carried out by people who review and assess individual resources. Review and selection may also take place through a combination and human review and input and mathematical computation.
- Are the results relevant? Check to see if the search engine is specializing in a specific topic, audience, source of information, or type of material included in the results. Find the tools that are most closely related to your needs.
- Who sponsors the search engine? Just as there is a need to evaluate individual websites for currency, accuracy, and authority, you should also assess your search engine. Take a closer look at the company or group that maintains the search engine and sponsors its use.
- What are people saying about it? Look for reviews and recommendations from your peers and others in your network. Some tools are better than others and you can get a lot of information from those who have already tried them out.
Explore Your Options
As with most new technologies, there are benefits and challenges to adding new sites to your search repertoire. While this may allow you to find a more expansive or diverse list of resources, there is also time and effort involved in experimenting with new options and evaluating them for your use. Start with one new search tool and try it out the next time you head for Google. Conduct your search on Google and a new search engine, and compare the results.
The list provided in this post is just a start. Where do you conduct your Internet searches? Tell us more about your favorite search engines and help us add to this list.