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Beyond Google - Search Innovations

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David Silversmith
David Silversmith

While is clearly the world leader in helping people search the Internet, a number of other services are continuing to strive to take over the mantle of search leader.  Sites like LeapFish and WolframAlpha continue to try and make a better search - only time will tell if they have found a way to out-google Google!

With the Internet graveyard littered with failed search engines you would think it would discourage investment, but when you counter that with the $$$$ rolling in at Google, the investment continues. Out of the ashes of AltaVista, Snap, Magellan and Infoseek come two new players in 2009.  While WolframAlpha and LeapFish have already helped to prove that the world is running out of good product names, they also hope to prove that Google's stay as both the king and queen of search will be a short reign.

WolframAlpha is the first step in an ambitious project to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable by anyone.  Their goal is to collect the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

For example, if you type "New Zealand" into the search box on WolframAlpha you will get the following data as a result:

  • The internet code is .nz
  • Image of the flag
  • Image of maps showing the location of New Zealand
  • Geographic and demographic properties
  • Lists of the largest cities in New Zealand with the corresponding populations

WolframAlpha reaches into vast databases that exist on the web and directly feeds you information about your query.  In Google, when you type in New Zealand, you are treated to a long list of links to places that can tell you the same type of data.  However, you have to pick the link (or links) and look at them to find your answers.

When you ask questions, Wolfram Alpha gives you facts and answers.  If you enter in math problems - it gives you answers (where was this when I was taking High School Algebra!); you can enter in a date and find out how many days ago it was, when sunrise and sunset occurred on that date and any notable events from the day. 

In many ways WolframAlpha is more of an encyclopedia than a search engine. Perhaps Microsoft saw the handwriting on the wall as their Encarta encyclopedia is on the way out.  The WolframAlpha approach is different - but is fueled 100 million queries in it's first week of life.

LeapFish is much more like "traditional" search engines.  Their approach is similar to technologies used by portals like, LeapFish utilizes technology to communicate with all major online portals to simultaneously deliver search results from across the web to users in a single search query.

So when I type in "New Zealand" into the search box on Leapfish I get the following data as a result:

  • Several web results from Google
  • Blog results from Google
  • Section of news results
  • Section of videos
  • Section of images
  • Section of shopping as it relates to New Zealand
  • Section of answers coming from sites like Yahoo Answers

In many ways it reminds me of a more organized Google results page.  No new innovations like WolframAlpha, just a new way of displaying the Google style information.

Of course, we've just touched upon the features of these new sites - try them out yourselves for an upcoming search.

Man's search for knowledge continues on the Internet.  Google remains the traffic and the money leader.  That money is fueling ongoing innovation at Google Labs. And, what they don't develop themselves, they can just buy.  I suspect that if any search approach - WolframAlpha, LeapFish or another approach - gets traction, you can count on Google's deep pockets acquiring that technology.

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