As companies try to develop a better search engine, it turns out it is much more difficult to dethrone Google than I believe most realize. I looked at four new search engines, Snap, Ms. Dewey, ChaCha, and Rollyo, and found that they all had a long way to go.
To be fair, I did not do an exhaustive test, but in most case the user interface is bad enough to not want to use the search engine. In two cases, if you have a particular niche need, you might find help. If you are struggling to find something on the Internet, you might try ChaCha's guided searches, where someone will actually help you. Or, if you search for the same topics over several sites, frequently, Rollyo may be worth a further look.
Before I share all the details, as I said, I did not do an exhaustive test. What I did do is search for these four phrases: 1) content effectiveness; 2) fingertip knowledge; 3) Chris Todd; and 4) Excel tips. I also considered that for a successful search, it takes two things: 1) a good search index and 2) a good way to navigate the results. All of these sites fail in at least one of these areas, some fail in both.
The basic layout includes search results in the left column, preview in the right. The site was slow to load the preview – obviously partly due to my connection speed, but as it tries to pre-load the previews for the results, it consumes a lot of bandwidth. I found it difficult to navigate results – using the scroll wheel, it moves too fast through the results. If you click Next, it give you the next 10 based on where you are currently highlighting. So if you do not move from the first highlighted result, scroll to the bottom of the list, and click Next, you get one new result instead of the expected 10. You also have to click a link after the first 20 results – without clicking that link, the Next button is hidden. It is not obvious that there is more results as only the small test for more results and the small text of total results at the top give you any indication; and they are too small to be helpful. The search results were poor too. If you can get past all this, Snap does offer a Firefox extension.
From Microsoft, Ms. Dewey has over 1000 pre-recorded sayings to encourage you to search. This site is more of a gimmick, as the user interface for viewing results is worse than Snap’s. The search results are much better, but the scrolling through the list is difficult. You move your mouse cursor in the area of the results, and depending on above or below center, the results will move up or down – much too fast to effectively control. If that isn’t enough, Ms. Dewey cannot keep quiet enough while you search through the list and review the results. Finally, there is no feedback while the search engine checks its index; for that matter, Ms. Dewey doesn’t know you have searched until the index has completed.
ChaCha is the search engine with live representatives to help you find your results. Perhaps expecting their representatives over time to help improve their index. Using the search index, the results were better than Snap, but not up to Ms. Dewey. Worse though was the fact that many of the results were sponsored. When I searched on “Excel tips”, the first five were sponsored. Since the label for sponsor is at the URL line, which is often ignored, and in a light color, it was very hard to recognize. Additionally, they used a page 1 of x to indicate the results instead of 1 of 10 of x results. I initially liked the fact that when I clicked a link, it opened a new window. But if I want to compare results by opening multiple windows, In addition to each window opening in a tab (I held the Ctrl key down using Firefox), the new window still opened and moved to the top most window each time I clicked a new link.
Short for roll-your-own-search, Rollyo is designed to let you customize what search engines and how narrow (or broad) your searches are. The default is searches from Yahoo!; and without customization, I think the results were second only to Ms. Dewey’s (Microsoft). I tried one custom search, but found that Rollyo needed to offer more help. It appears the value is to have already identified multiple sites you want to include in your search. When I tried to include Google, it notified me that if I included Google, then it would search Google’s corporate site. So if you search for the same topics over several sites, frequently, this may be worth a further look. Rollyo does offer a Firefox extension too.
That was a quick peak of what is being worked on. Google is also working on a better way to display results, at SearchMash.com. I suspect if anything unseats Google, will be something from Google -- Google already has a great search index, and though the result navigation could be better, it is clean and everyone is familiar with it.