Is it time to dump Google as your search engine? Lately I've been finding myself drifting away from my old friend. Newer services do just as much as--or more than--Google does, and they do it with nicer interfaces.
A few months ago, I started to look beyond Google for driving directions. Yahoo's Maps Beta, I found, gives you more control over the printed directions than Google does. Both Yahoo and Microsoft's Windows Live Local give you traffic. And Ask's Maps and Directions provides walking directions. So who needs Google?
I've also falling out of love with Google's Desktop Search. Again, Yahoo's Desktop Search is better. It seems to cause less of a drag on my laptop system, and the interface isn't a lame Web page; it has a proper preview pane, and it lets you easily narrow down and sort your search results.
But surely Google's primary consumer application, its Web search engine, is safe, right? Not so much. A recent visit from an Ask.com marketing contingent (not to mention Ask's massive TV advertising campaign) convinced me to give the engine formerly known as AskJeeves a new try. Here's what I found: Ask.com is really good. For popular search topics, where Google has ads down the right side of the page, Ask has a list of related links that give you either a narrower or a wider view. For example, search for Corvette, and under Narrow Your Search, you'll find links for parts and for cars for sale, while under Expand Your Search, there are links to other sports car marks. This is extremely useful. Ask can also pop up images of Web pages when you hover over a little icon near the results, as Browster and Cooliris (and some Google plug-ins) do. Ask will also put Smart Answers, short entries from a database or an online encyclopedia, at the top of your results, above the ads. Google does this, too, with some structured data items (such as shopping data, weather, and stock prices), but Ask does it with text topics as well.
I found Ask's search results different from Google's--often better, occasionally not. In particular, when searching for prices of consumer goods, Google's extra ads were very useful, and more often it found good prices to put in its Product Search box at the top of its results. But for nonproduct searches, I find that Ask's extra organizational features make searching more productive.
If you're devoted to Google out of force of habit or some affinity to the brand, I submit that it's time you reexamine your habits. Google is good, but it's not worth unyielding devotion.