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06 May 2010

Google News, Bing and Wolfram Alpha

The web is huge, and it’s growing all the time. There’s a lot of useful information out there, as well as a lot of junk. But how can you find what you want?

That’s where search engines come in. Internet search engines have been around since 1990, when ‘Archie’ was first created by Alan Emtage. There had been a central list of webservers held at CERN, but it simply could not keep up with the number of new websites, and so the internet search engine was born. Archie was soon followed by other systems like Gopher and Web Wanderer.

In the early days of the web there were also Search Directories like the first Yahoo! Website. These were manually updated lists of websites, and not true search engines.

Today, Google is the most popular search engine. As of April this year, 86.3% of searches were still made on Google, in comparison to 5.3% and 3.13% for Yahoo! and Bing respectively. Google has recently revamped its service, adding new options on the left hand side of search results, such as the ability to organise results by date amongst other innovations.

One of my favourite search tools is the Google News search. This engine specialises in news content only, and is a really powerful way of keeping track of companies. At Prospect, we’ve created a system that allows us to pre-define Google news searches. Anyone working at Prospect can browse these searches on the Intranet, and get the latest news on employers, along with the latest on general topics or individuals.

The Intranet allows users to opt to receive these searches by email, so that, for example, a negotiator can select to receive the latest news regarding EDF Energy once a fortnight in their inbox.

Microsoft launched the Bing search engine to much fanfare in 2009. It’s still nowhere near as popular as Google, but it’s use has slowly been increasingly and does have some nice features. Users can preview the sites before they click on the link by using ‘more info’ option to the right of each result. There is also a handy ‘related searches’ list generated using some clever semantic software that came from a company Microsoft purchased.

Yahoo! has been a popular search site for years, and it is now powered by Bing, although you might not notice, as it’s built into the Yahoo! website.

Wolfram Alpha is what is called a ‘computational’ search engine, in that it searches for facts and figures. It’s more difficult to use, but is great for getting information. Enter a city, and you’ll see information like population, current temperature and near by cities. Search for “profit bt”, and it will show you the profits at British Telecom for the last few years, and automatically generate a graph.

It’s not so useful for checking up on smaller companies though. While Google web search is still considered the best, it’s worth trying out some of the other engines, and also the different options available in Google. There’s nothing like being well informed.

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