One of my favorite sites is AltSearchEngines (www. alt se arch engine s .com), the web headquarters for alternative search engines (IT, May 2008). It's the site where you'll find news, reviews, and rankings for hundreds of exotic, little-known search engines.
I browse it regularly for review topics and to marvel at this deep font of innovation, imagination, and aspiration. Last month, AltSearchEngines awarded its 2008 AltSearchEngines Search Race award to iSEEK (www iseek.com). Of course, I rushed to investigate it. It had to be something special if the hard-core search engine fanatics selected it from among 250 candidates. Is iSEEK a breakthrough technology? Is it the new Google? Should I give it precious space in my bookmarks?
iSEEK describes its search technology as "targeted discovery." In more conventional terms, it is a metasearch clustering engine: It merges results from several leading search engines and then it classifies, or "clusters," the results into topic-related subcategories. Both applications - metasearch and clustering - have been around for a long time, so the question is, "Does iSEEK bring anything new to the table?" To cut to the chase, the answer is maybe. Yes, this answer is a wimpy evasion, but all I can say is: Judging search engines is highly personal.
iSEEK is produced by Vantage Linguistics (www.vantagelinguistics.com), which produces linguistic analysis software. iSEEK is officially in beta, which really means, "We want you to help us fix this thing." However, the site already has plenty of ads at the top, the bottom, and on the right frame of most pages. Otherwise, it is attractive and reasonably intuitive. It also offers a lot of personalization, which is one of its strongest selling points.
iSEEK as a Metasearch Engine
As a metasearch engine, iSEEK merges results from Google, Ask.com, Yahoo!, and The New York Times site. This is well-trod territory, so iSEEK will not reveal otherwise hidden web treasures. The question then becomes, "Are iSEEK search results unarguably better than those of every one of its individual component search engines?" This time my answer is no. In dozens of searches, I found that iSEEK often did have a better set of hits than the others, but its margin of victory was slim, and, often, another search engine performed better.
My judgments are completely arbitrary, of course. And they are based upon my personal assessment of which search engine's results are better, more useful, or more relevant. Moreover, there is a great deal of overlap among search results in Google, Ask.com, and Yahoo! (The New York Times site stands out in the bunch because it is a site-based search engine rather than a general web search engine). For most searches, these top three have several hits in common in the first 10. Furthermore, each one (and iSEEK) is likely to have what I would call the best two or three sites on the first results page.
In other words, it doesn't matter much what you do. You can search all of these individually, but you quickly hit the law of diminishing returns. The best that iSEEK can claim is that it often has the best results, or at least sometimes.
In addition to its main web search, iSEEK has a vertical market application called Searchblades. There is now a Searchblade for education that highly ranks results from education-related websites. It is effective in retrieving relevant results that general engines either bury deeply or miss entirely.
iSEEK as a Clustering Engine
OK, iSEEK's second claim to fame, clustering, isn't anything new. Clustering engines can provide a big advantage to a single ranked list of hits by dividing them into topically related subcategories. (I've covered several of the major clustering engines in my previous columns, including those on Clusty, Grokker, and Kartoo.) All of the leading search engines have also adopted clustering to differing extents. …