Poor Web site search capabilities are an annoyance for most users, but for some, a sites inability to return effective search results can be a severe impediment to doing their jobs. For users who do research and investigation across multiple Web sites and data sources, for example, most engines on the Web wont cut it. These users often need client-based tools that allow fine-grained, deep searches and analysis.
But like search engines for Web sites, desktop search tools have seen little improvement in the last several years. Indeed, in some ways, things are worse. Although a quick (what else) Web search seems to turn up a host of client-based search tools and tool bar add-ons for Web browsers, most of these tools are mainly search redirects for popular Web search engines. Powerful analytical Web search tools such as Prompt Software Inc.s WebSleuth and Intelliseek Inc.s Bullseye are now gone or difficult to find.
Still, there is reason for hope. A relatively new desktop application provides one of the most effective and powerful tools eWEEK Labs has seen for handling large and complex searches. Groxis Inc.s $49 Grokker 2 provides a unique visual map metaphor for performing advanced metasearches across multiple sources, including personal files.
When a search starts in Grokker, the user is presented with a large circle that has different categorized results represented as smaller circles within it. Clicking in a circle reveals smaller categorized circles that eventually lead to page results. Using this tool, we were able to find relevant pages that were buried deep in result pages when using search tools such as Google.
For those looking for more traditional deep-search research tools, DtSearch Corp.s namesake $199 DtSearch Desktop provides powerful Boolean search capabilities and the ability to drill deep into successive search results. We especially liked its ability to search content resources no matter where they were.
Metasearch tools oriented more toward the mainstream are available from Copernic Technologies Inc.. These tools provide a sort of power version of the simple search tool bar applications that search Web sites provide. The $80 Copernic Agent Professional, for example, provides very useful search options, including the ability to track changes in Web pages and perform deep analysis of results.
Although many search tools offer versions for the Macintosh, most Mac users can take advantage of the excellent Sherlock tool that is included in Mac OS. Sherlock provides powerful metasearch capabilities and makes it easy to add various data sources to your searches and drill down into your results.
A feature missing from many of these search tools is the ability to save the text of pages gleaned from search results in order to analyze it offline. One can guess that this feature is not included because high-speed Internet access is considered common today. That may be true, but many power researchers still need the ability to dig into what can often be reams of search results offline.
In general, most of the small tool bar search aids provided by search-site vendors arent worth the trouble of downloading. The search capabilities provided by these tools are identical to simply going to the search site. For example, the free Vivisimo Toolbar makes it possible to run searches from your browser, but when the tool bar is run, it simply launches a results page delivered from Vivisimo.
And because all modern browsers make it possible to search from specific search sites, such as Google, the tool bar feature doesnt really add much. Some do offer additional features, such as pop-up blocking, but if you really want that, you might as well get a dedicated pop-up blocker.
A final note of caution: Some of the “free” search tool bar add-ons come laden with spyware, making them very costly in the long run.
On Search, the Series Tim Bray, one of the creators of XML and chief technology officer of Antarctica Systems Inc., which makes visual tools for search, provides an excellent and detailed analysis of the history, current state and possible future of search technologies—a must-read for anyone interested in search
What is RSS? Good developer-oriented breakdown of RSS standards and their deployment
Text Retrieval Conference Government-sponsored conference that looks at advanced search technologies and publishes results and analysis of current techniques and technologies
World Wide Web Consortium Several key standards at the World Wide Web Consortium could have a significant effect on the future of search; these include Resource Description Framework, the Semantic Web project, XML Path Language and XML Query
Search Engine Watch Provides tips and tricks and analysis of search engines and Web search sites, as well as lots of links to search-related information