I think it’s safe for me to say “shea right – if i hate AOL Search as much as I despise AOL the ISP, this article will not be favourable to AOL in any way, shape or form”.

Let the games begin.

AOL Search fails to render properly in Google Chrome

AOL Search fails to render properly in Google Chrome

Wow off to a flying start here, boys…. </sarcasm>

The second thing to peeve me off is that AOL Search doesn’t have a search provider exposed in their meta-data. So I have to create one for myself. Fortunately, Chrome makes this pretty easy, but that’s not the point – You guys are providing a search service. Irrespective of how shit it may or may not be, FFS at least make it easy for me to *TRY* and use your product?

…all this, and I haven’t actually started using it yet. How ominous. I’m hoping that the little “powered by Google” actually means “we cant do search anymore, and have given up. Here’s one which does it better”.


One week (maybe a little more) has passed and well, lets just say i’m not as disappointed as I thought I would be. Mainly because AOL search really does seem to be effectively a wrapper around Google. As an example, I searched the hottest topic going around on the tubes at the moment (the effects of socialism on post-war Germany), and most of the results were the same, except that Google also listed a result to its Book Search service. Apart from little things like that, these two are inseparable. Even AOL’s image search is just a face-mask over Google Images.

The design of the page leaves a little to be desired however, as AOL shamelessly place advertisements on the top of the page in an attempt to drive click-throughs. My ad-busting eyeballs detect this easily so the placement of the ad isn’t so much the problem. The problem is that they have sneakily set the length of the HREF for each paid link to be the full width of the page, which means by clicking in what should be “blank space” you trigger the link and click-through the paid ad. Naughty, naughty.

All said and done, I couldn’t help but realise I just commented to a colleauge without realising that I’m finishing up this post so that “I can go back to using Google”. I guess even subconsciously I find any experience outside Google’s to be less than engaging.

On a final note, The Wolfram Alpha didn’t launch as soon as I was hoping it would, so there’ll be a week’s rest where I go back to Google, before trying out the new kid on the block on 18th May. Yes, I am aware of the broad misrepresentation of Alpha being as “Google killer” but it would still be fun to try 🙂

In this, the 3rd installment of The (Not So) Great Search Engine Showdown, I reflect on my experience using Ask.com compared to Google.

I don’t have a great deal of time so this post is going to be brief. I really only have one _serious_ gripe about Ask – that stupid fu#@$%g Answerbar at the top of the page everytime you navigate to a search result. NO, ask.com! I wanted you to give me the search result, not a pain in the ass waste of screen real estate. What also frustrated me about this “feature” was it’s sheer unpredictability. Most web results would display the Anusbar at the top, but others (like Wikipedia) would be displayed in full glory without being crippled.
The “Close Permanently” button was never hit with such gusto, i’m sure. To demonstrate just how much, i’ve prepared the following illustration:

How to close the Ask.com Answerbar

How to close the Ask.com Answerbar

By way of quality of results, I actually found Ask to be better than I was expecting. Certainly I felt like I wasn’t missing Google, though on a few occassions I had to drop back just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything (turns out I wasn’t). Overall the web search results were as good as Yahoo’s, though one thing that irritated was that Ask.com mixes the paid advertising results in with the organic search results. I’m sure they’ll claim that they’re putting the top-most organic result first and then allowing the rest of the results to be shown underneath the paid section, but we all know the truth. Money grubbers.

When it was originally launched as “Ask Jeeves”, the website’s search technology was based on doing some NLP against your search query and it would try to return the best results based on the context of your question. A few years ago Jeeve’s was given the arse from his job, and the company took the arse to their search results, because (quite simply) their NLP wasn’t advanced enough to provide accurate results compared to Big Brother

However having played with with Ask.com this week, I noticed they still have a Q&A section (it claims is in Beta) which allows you to phrase a question and let the NLP try and answer it for you. Not one to turn down a good opportunity to test NLP products (and get a comparative feeling for the upcoming Wolfram Alpha test i’ll hopefully be performing), I Ask’ed the following question in the name of science:

Putting Ask.com's NLP to the Public Service Announcement test.

Putting Ask.com's NLP to the Public Service Announcement test.

It’s heart-warming to see that even if you speak broken English like the second guy, you can still get valuable advice on the interwebs.

This week, I throw away all credibility as I try out AOL’s search. If using this website results in me getting another fking AOL starter CD, i’ll sht the roof.

In the second installment in my series of evaluating search engines, I take a look at Yahoo’s search offering – specifically the locally-branded Yahoo7 search

The first test – TICK. A Yahoo search on my name turns up very good results. My website first, and underneath that one of my blog posts. Closely followed by Facebook and LinkedIn. If i wanted to stalk myself, this is clearly a good place to start.

A cute little feature is that my Facebook search result contains deep links to come Facebook features like “Send Message“, and “Poke“. Way to get in with the 2.0, Yahoo.

After that, it starts getting a bit weird, and the results lose a lot of meaning. Some old documentation I wrote when in another job shows up on the first page, despite it being excessively out-of-date and not updated for at least 3 years, I didn’t think this content would fare at all.

In terms of visuals, the search results are very Google’esque…nay, identical. Yahoo results are minimalistic with Web, Image, Video, News, Maps and More at the top of the screen and a link to the cached version located conveniently in a position which makes defending a case of plagiarism from Google infinitely hard. I guess the up-side to this is that people will hit Yahoo search results and feel like they’re in familiar territory.

Which I guess leads me into Yahoo’s foray into Federated search called Alpha. Yahoo claim that “Alpha is a new beta product from Yahoo!7 that introduces the concept of Federated Search. With Alpha, you can search across many different information sources all on one place”.. Holy tuna, batman! “Search across many information sources from one place”?….Sounds like a regular search engine to me. *bored* The quality of search results don’t appear to be any different to regular Yahoo, but the UI is very different. Kind of like Live Search (and we all remember how that went)…

<fast-forward one week>

I’ve been using Y7’s search now for the week and I have to admit, I was acutally quite comfortable with the results it was giving. When evaluating MS Live Search, I was constantly living in this fear that I was missing quality search results and would fall back to Google just to make sure I was getting the right information when I needed it. However with Yahoo, I felt confident enough with what it gave me to not feel like I was missing out on good results. I honestly feel like I could replace Google with Yahoo if I needed to (which I don’t).

The next engine to go under the knife – Ask.com. They don’t have any locally branded content, and I’ve just got a gut-feeling this will be a difficult week 😐

In my (what i hope to complete) series of comparing Google to other search engines, The first engine i’m testing out is Microsoft Live Search.

I guess the first (obvious) thing to try is to search for my name (on a side note, i’m soooo tempted to use “google” as a verb, but that would be inappropriate when testing out the competition, no?). The first two results are correct, or at least relevant (ie: my website) and the rest of the results are neither here nor there in terms of relevance – there really wasn’t a whole lot it could do with my name except find literal matches in page content.

One thing which surprises me is that the results returned vary greatly depending on how many results I show on each page. Setting the limit to the minimum of 10, and I seem to get results all about me and most of them pretty relevant chronologically. However if i switch it to 30 results per page the niceties pretty much drop dead as the search results spew into variations of my Facebook profile in different culture sub-domains (ja-jp being the most relevant out of about 7 others). FAIL.

Live search, (unlike Google) has a neat little equation solver (example), which would have been great about 10 years ago when i was actually doing calculus and solving quadratic equations. Relevant now? Probably not. I would expect the Wolfram Alpha to drop a big steaming shizzle all over this feature given it’s company history. So Maths equation solving – FAIL.

One problem i’m finding is that i’m just not used to the format of search results from Live search. I find that if what i’m searching for is not essential to what i’m doing (or should be doing) it turns me off and i want to just leave the site without getting any results. This is a very bad UX and it’s probably all in my perception of what “good” search results look like.
Must fight urge to judge a book by it’s cover.

……<fast forward a few days>……

and so it is i come to the end of the week and in all seriousness it couldn’t come soon enough. I tried, I really did. Microsoft has a loooong way to go before they could even begin to think about claiming that their search engine is actually a competitor to Google, and not just another smoking pile of crap. You know things are in trouble when you need to create a short-cut to Google’s search because the Live results are just plain inadequate.

Suffice to say, i’m very disappointed with Live Search and don’t think it’s ready to be considered a contender for search king of the net. i’m glad to get my browser away from it and move onto something else.

Yahoo – stand up. You’re next.

I had a little time over the long weekend to reflect on things in the past, and one conversation which came to mind was a casual chat with an engineer at Yahoo7 I met at a party about a year ago. I can’t for the life of me remember his name, but I do remember our conversation.

Maybe it was bravado, maybe it was arrogance, and it certainly was alcohol induced, but I asked him point blank “You work at Yahoo7. Compared to Google, how do you personally find Y7’s search results?”. Not unlike me to put some fuel into the fire, I was kind of expecting him to defend his company, defend the search engine backing his company’s website, stomp his foot and slap me across the face with a glove………and he did (except for the glove).

The reason this moment stuck with me wasn’t because he launched into a tirade of fact vs fiction and MapReduce mumbo-jumbo, but because his answer was a brutally honest “Personally, I find the results on par and sometimes maybe a little less than Google, but the real test is in inviting you to try it”. The night went on, and i’m sure i stumbled into a taxi and got home safely, but I never really forgot his response.

Admittedly i’ve been putting it off for a while, and on occasion i’ve considered doing it but always found an excuse to stay within the comfort zone that Google provides. Well that changes this week as I’ve finally decided to bite the bullet and drop Google for a few weeks as I try using a different search engine each week in my daily routine and see how it feels and whether all search engines really are so close that Google’s superiority of results is just perception.

Having looked at some statistics of search engine market share, the candidates up for testing in this very un-scientific assessment are:

This at least helps me weed out most of the smaller players and the engines of eras long since forgotten.

Where appropriate, i’ve tried to use locally branded variants of the website purely for my own benefit. I’ve thrown the Wolfram Alpha into the list because it generated significant interest in the blogosphere in the last 30 days to at least warrant a look once it’s released.

Starting this week, i’m going to try Live search. It’s set as my default search engine for Chrome and i’ll be consciously trying to use it over Google..

Wish me luck.