Thursday, June 11, 2009

Baker's dozen: More on Powerset, Bing and search 2.0 in general

At this rate, there'll be a baker's dozen baker's dozen posts.

While trying to figure out what to try next, I ran across a blog by Mark Johnson, evidently one of the forces behind Bing. Among other things, he makes the point that there's more to evaluating a search engine than just throwing a few queries at it.

Fair enough. Several of the points are good ones, in particular the advice to try a prospective new search engine for a week or so with everyday queries instead of throwing two or three (or thirteen) contrived queries at it. Some, I don't buy so much. Johnson argues that people often make the mistake of just looking at the top result of a query. For my money this is a mistake the same way saying "irregardless" is a mistake. OK, you can call it a mistake, but it's what people do and they're unlikely to change.

In any case, I'm not aiming at the same kind of evaluation here that Johnson probably has in mind. I'm not looking for a document-turner-upper with nicer amenities, even though I fully understand that a collection of smallish amenities can make a major difference over an extended period of time.

An extended trial is a sensible approach if you're looking for something that's basically Google but better. I'm looking for something that's not Google, something that takes a fundamentally different approach and provides a fundamentally different experience. So far, Alpha is the only such engine I've found.

Nonetheless, I thought it was at least worth double-checking that the Bing that Powerset linked to was substantially the same as Bing in its own right, so I ran the baker's dozen past Bing itself. The search results were substantially the same, but not exactly. I'm not sure if that's because Bing searches differently on its own and Powerset was directing me to a page of Powerset results presented Bingishly, or just because web.contents tend to shift in transit and things have changed in the last day or two.

Even from these brief encounters I can see that both Powerset and Bing have various UI amenities beyond the pretty formatting that might well be helpful for routine use. If you're looking for Google-but-better, you might give them a look and decide for yourself. I might do so myself, though the cynic in me wonders whether a one-week trial is meant to be long enough to establish sufficient inertia to keep one from bothering to switch back ...

Johnson also provides pointers to several other engines to try out. So on with the show ...

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