Can you ditch Google for a metasearch engine?

Google may reign supreme in the search market, but metasearch engines are a viable alternative to those who want more out of their search engine.

If you're using a major search engine to find information on the Web, you're missing out on some of the best search experiences. With the help of a metasearch engine--a service that grabs results from multiple search engines--you'll not only find relevant results quickly, but you might be able to kick that Google habit.

Clusty

The biggest issue facing any metasearch engine is determining how it can compete with Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft without copying them. Clusty does it by "clustering" search results based on keywords contained in the query.

If you search for something simple like "CNET," you'll find a list of results like any other search engine. But to the left of those results, Clusty also displays keywords like "reviews," "networks," and "downloads" that you can click on to narrow results down to a specific topic and find exactly what you're looking for sooner.

The clusters were relevant in each of my queries, and Clusty's ability to search and sort news, video, blogs, and jobs makes it an extremely compelling metasearch engine, if you want more than just a Web search. That said, it doesn't access results from Google (it uses Microsoft Live Search and Ask.com's search engines, to name a few), so if you're dedicated to Google results, you may be disappointed with Clusty on more complicated queries. But if you don't mind losing Google's results, you will quickly realize that Clusty is one of the best search services on the Web.

Dogpile

Owned by InfoSpace, Dogpile is a "feel good" metasearch engine that donates a portion of its revenue to animals in need each time you perform a search.

That may be enough for some to switch to the service, but those who enjoy Google's simplicity or Yahoo's extras will be happy to know that Dogpile delivers outstanding search results, thanks to its inclusion of Google, Yahoo, Live, and Ask results in its own. It even provides search options for the basics (video, images, and news), along with the yellow pages and the white pages.

Dogpile may not feature the "clusters" that make Clusty unique, but the metasearch engine provides a clean design and extremely relevant search results to make it an ideal choice, if you're looking to ditch Google and move on to something new.

Kartoo

Kartoo is a visual metasearch engine, which means that it doesn't display search results in a list. Instead, it displays the top search results in a "map" of thumbnail images of the sites it retrieved. It also features a keyword chart to the left of the map that allows you to tailor the search results to a specific topic, making it easier to drill down and find exactly what you're looking for.

Kartoo's search results are fine for simple queries, but they provide little relevance for anything more complex than "CNET" or "Britney Spears." Worse, the search engine can be slow at times--it uses Adobe Systems' Flash technology--but the company claims that it will speed up as you keep using it, though I didn't see any difference.

If you're looking to ditch Google for better search results, Kartoo shouldn't top your list. But if you want something cute to look at that doesn't look like anything else you've ever seen, it's definitely worth trying.

Mamma

Founded in 1996, the self-proclaimed "Mother of all search engines," Mamma Metasearch is one of the oldest metasearch engines on the Web, and delivers results from a variety of search engines and specialty sites.

Generally, Mamma performs well with simple queries, but as soon as searches become more complex, it tends to break down and only delivers results from Ask instead of the more prominent search engines the other metasearch engines use.

Mamma's search "refining" is what makes the service unique. After inputting a query, it analyzes what you say and suggests other ways to phrase the query to return better results. I found that the feature works well, and it generally achieves its goal of returning better results. That said, Mamma is showing its age and probably isn't the best option, if you're choosing between all the metasearch engines included in this group.

Do any of these metasearch engines do enough to make you leave Google? Sure. But unless you're using Dogpile or Clusty, I doubt you'll get too far before you run back to Larry and Sergey.

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About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

 

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