The Internet was born decades ago in computer science laboratories and only produced a trickle of information compared to what we see now. It has grown to the point where it flows with the pulse of our world. Users who limit queries to engines that search only webpages risk missing the most current waves of information as they flow out.
Part of the challenge is recognizing the fragmented nature of information online. While Twitter, Instagramc and CNN serve different purposes, all form voices in the online conversation. When searching for particular information, it’s smart to hear all voices.
A variety of new search engines have come online with the hopes of finding new ways to hear the online conversation. Here are a few worth exploring:
Website results are shown parallel to tweets containing the same search terms. Searching “Target” brings up Target’s website, its Wikipedia page, but also includes the buzz on Twitter surrounding a recent announcement Gregg Steinhafel would step down immediately from his position as Chairman of the Target Board of Directors, president, and CEO.
This engine catches much of the online conversation by aggregating nearly all of the major social media websites. Results appear as a mosaic of images, but when clicked, can lead to photos, videos, or tweets. Searches can be refreshed to capture the most current pulse of information.
Results are broken down into relevant categories, helping to eliminate the need to dig for information. A search of “puppies” returns a variety of colored boxes categorized with terms such as “Classifieds,” “Dogs,” Pets,” and “Top Results.” Each box contains two links to relevant websites.
The service also allows you to further target your search by adding what it calls “slashtags.” As its blog explains, by coupling a search term like “diabetes” with a slashtag like “/health,” Blekko will show only results from what it says are trusted health websites, such as nih.gov, cdc.gov, webmd.com, and others.
Just because this search engine focuses solely on Twitter doesn’t mean it can’t be incredibly useful. Topsy quantifies the conversation by allowing you to search and analyze Tweets. Searching “Yoga” brings up a stream of related Tweets. It also indicates within the past hour, 2,136 Tweets contain “yoga.” Users can also pinpoint accounts that Topsy has deemed “influential” in the yoga conversation. This means you can not only frame tweets using the most popular topics, but also target the most influential folks.
In some ways, Social Mention functions like a “Topsy,” but for a wider variety of social media outlets. Social Mention couples search results with analytics information. This can help users see the frequency and “sentiment” of the conversation surrounding search terms.(And shout out to all you data geeks – Social Mention allows users to download data in .CSV format)
While not radically different from major search engines, Clusty helps users by clustering results into groups called “clouds.” When I search “coffee,” I see a list of different subgroups on the left-side of the page, including columns such as “roasted coffee, “green coffee,” “fair trade,” or “barista.” Users can also view clouds based on media sources where results are coming from. For example the feature lists results including 36 hits from CNBC, while only four from Reuters.
Have you ever visited a website to pull up some information – only to find the website no longer exists? Or the layout has changed hiding the information you were looking for? The Wayback Machine attempts to solve this – it offers ‘snapshots’ of websites from various points in history. While this service isn’t able to provide snapshots of websites every day, it can be useful to see glances of how things were. (Or, at the very least, it’s an interesting way to spend an hour.)
A Note on Search and Privacy
As users’ online voices get louder, many are becoming aware of some possibly unintended listeners. Major search engines track a range of information about users including their physical location, searches, and habits. (Search engines can then use this information to provide more targeted search results and advertisements.) Google officially made this part of their terms of service recently. Still, there are several search engines that claim to let you stay connected to the conversation while allowing users voices to remain untracked. Here are a few of them:
Hide and Search: The homepage includes a list of “popular” and “random” searches.
Duck Duck Go: This engine includes tools that allow you to easily target your search to specific websites such as Wikipedia and YouTube.
featured image via Shutterstock.