The Newest and Best Search Engine Tools

by Evelyn Beck

YOU MAY NEVER have met Archie, but perhaps you’ve spent some time with Gopher or Jeeves. Looking back through search engine history is a bit like browsing through a little black book. It was 1990 when Archie, the first search engine, premiered. Then came Gopher and then many more, including Excite, Yahoo, WebCrawler, Lycos, InfoSeek, AltaVista, Looksmart, Hotbot, Ask Jeeves, Northern Light, and MSN Search. Some of these are still around, some were consumed by other companies, and some folded. The current dominant force in search engines, Google, debuted in 1998. More recent entrants into the field include Gigablast, Teoma, Nutch, and Dispie. There are also meta search engines that gather results from multiple search engines; these include Jux2, Dogpile, Clusty, and Mamma.

While Google has achieved the most widespread name recognition, even its regular users may not be aware of some of its latest tools. And other search engines can be better for specific needs. Here’s an overview of some of the latest search engine innovations of particular interest to on-line educators and their students.

Academic search engines

Some search engines focus on scholarly sources. Google Scholar, operating since late 2004 in a beta version (that is, still under development), offers up links to peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities, in addition to more widely available web scholarship articles. Two science search engines are Scirus and Citeseer. Also of interest is Librarians’ Index to the Internet, which offers a searchable, browsable collection of over 16,000 high-quality Web sites.

Magazine search engines

FindArticles.com offers free access to full-text articles from many academic, industry and general interest magazines, including Comparative Literature, Essence, Golf Digest, Instructor, The Rural Educator, the Saturday Evening Post, Sierra, and Teaching History, with archives dating back to 1984. Links are also available to magazines that charge for their articles.

MagPortal.com offers free access to full-text articles from several dozen magazines, including American History, Business Week, Christianity Today, Fast Company, The New American, Nursing Management, Smithsonian, and Scientific American. Search by topic, and classify the results by quality of match, date, publication, or category.

Blog search engines

Several search engines specialize in locating blogs, or Weblogs, which are increasingly popular tools in education. Bloglines, which is owned by Ask Jeeves, allows you to search by subject. For each hit, you can see a preview, subscribe, or see related blogs. Other blog search engines include Technorati and Feedster, but these seem to yield fewer substantive results.

Audio and video search engines

FindSounds is a sound search engine that allows you to locate online resources for many sound clips, from musical instruments to animals to vehicles to human and gadget noises. SpeechBot allows you to search audio and video files of such programs as Car Talk and American Forces Radio and Television Service Radio News. AOL Search, which is in the beta version, offers audio and video clips of famous speeches, films, TV shows, music videos and news. Google Video Search, also in beta, offers extended videos from 26 TV stations, including CNN, PBS, Fox News, and several San Francisco affiliates.

Image search engines

Some of the best image search engines are Yahoo Images, Google Images, Ask Jeeves Pictures, AltaVista Images, and Picsearch. Google bills itself as the most comprehensive, with over one billion images, but Yahoo Images received first place in the 5th Annual Search Engine Watch Awards from SearchEngineWatch because it has greatly expanded its image database and because it keeps its images “fresher.”

Geographic search tools

Google Earth offers satellite images of anywhere on earth from an altitude of 3,000 feet, and you can use overlay commands to see lodging, roads, terrain, dining, geographical borders, as well as information from volcanoes to crime statistics. You can also get maps and directions, as you can from many other search engines.

Special Google features

Google continues to expand its reach. Its book search allows you to search the full text of books. Its personalized search, currently in beta version, alters your search results based on what you’ve searched for in the past. And in its quest to be the Web user’s one-stop shop, Google also allows you to track packages, check a flight status, find a phone number, get definitions of words or phrases, figure currency conversions, find the answer to a mathematical equation, and more—all directly from its search page. And like most search engines, it now has a question and answer feature modeled after Ask Jeeves, which allows users to ask a direct question. This feature is particularly popular with students.

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