Web Search Engines: Search Syntax and Features

By Ojala, Marydee | Online, September/October 2002 | Go to article overview

Web Search Engines: Search Syntax and Features


Ojala, Marydee, Online


BEGINNING WITH THE May/June 1999 issue, ONLINE has published a chart, authored by Ran Hock, detailing the search features inherent in Web search engines. To some extent, the idea was grounded in early Command Language Charts ONLINE published almost 2 decades ago, when the "search engines" were BRS, Dialog, ORBIT, and the like.

Looking back at previous charts makes the volatility in the contemporary world of search engines particularly evident. The first chart included seven search engines, most of which had a simple and an advanced interface. These seven were AltaVista, Excite, HotBot, Infoseek, Lycos, Northern Light, and WebCrawler. Several of those are no longer extant or have drastically changed character. Nine search engines were in the 2000 chart: WebCrawler was dropped (it still exists, but uses the Fast database); Fast Search, Google, and Yahoo! added. Infoseek became Go Networks. The 2001 chart had eight search engines: AltaVista, Excite, Fast Search, Google, HotBot, Lycos, Northern Light, and Yahoo! This year's chart drops Excite (now powered by pay-per-view Overture), Northern Light (now owned by divine inc. and no longer free), and Yahoo! (powered by Google, but with a smaller database). It adds Teoma and WiseNut. We almost dropped HotBot and Lycos, both TerraLycos companies. Although Lycos uses the FAST engine, recent updates persuaded us to retain it. The promise of updates to HotBot kept it on the charts. We've changed the listing from FAST to AllTheWeb because the company, Fast Search & Transfer, uses FAST to describe its search engine that powers other sites, while AllTheWeb is its technology showcase site.

STANDARDIZATION COMES TO WEB SEARCH

Some earlier variants are now standardized. The default Boolean operator, for example, is almost universally AND. Most search engines allow for limiting by title and URL. Some have additional field limits. Non-English-language capabilities range from 11 languages at HotBot to 77 at Google. The pay-per-view phenomenon continues to grow, with each search engine differing slightly in how it displays sponsored results. Under pressure, both from customers and the U.S. government, paid search results are almost always presented differently from nonpaid results. Aside from sponsored pages, results of a Web search, regardless of engine used, will be presented in relevancy order. Most search engines offer the option of turning on a "familyfriendly" filter.

When it comes to content, as Ran Hock notes in his article, "A New Era of Search Engines: Not Just Web Pages Anymore" (p. 20), the content searched by Web search engines now goes well beyond the original mandate of spidering only HTML Web pages for their databases. The search engines seem to be in lockstep, however, regarding new types of content. PDF files and images are popular. Note that just because a file type has been added to the search engine capabilities, the databases remain unique. …

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