ResearchWire - Search Engines Compared

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Diana Botluk is a reference librarian at the Judge Kathryn J. DuFour Law Library at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and is the author of the The Legal List: Research on the Internet.  She teaches legal research at CAPCON, Catholic University Law School, and the University of Maryland.  Take a class with Diana!  Here's how...


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Search engines are constantly changing and growing.  With every change, a search engine's creator strives to make it easy for inexperienced users to find what they need, while allowing flexibility for power searchers to gather information with the best possible efficiency.    One of the most visible changes in search engines over the past two years has been their evolution from simple web search engines to full blown portals, or places on the web where people can begin to look for information.  As such, these sites become an entry to the web, with a wide variety of passageways to pinpoint needed information.  Each passageway focuses on a different type of information, such as web pages or e-mail addresses or stock quotes, but they are all designed with one idea in mind...to get you to where you need to be more quickly and efficiently.  Thus, the portal options of the various search engines should not be ignored by researchers as invaluable tools in the quest for information.

Can a broad web search engine help legal researchers?  Certainly it can, sometimes.  Legal researchers should keep in mind that when searching the web for law related material, there is a much greater possiblity for finding needed information when the search is focused, using the appropriate tool for the task.  For example, when searching for a Supreme Court opinion, a legal researcher would not use a broad search engine like Alta Vista or HotBot, but rather would search through the database of Supreme Court opinions at FindLaw.  To locate the appropriate web site or database for a specific legal-focused search, a researcher should consult a law related starting point like the LLRXfindX.  For a simple chart of quick links to various law related web sites, try Law Resources on the World Wide Web.

However, for those times where a broad based web search is the appropriate path, each of the portals should be evaluated for the strength of its search engine.  While there are certainly similarities, search features vary from search engine to search engine, and one may be more suited to a certain task than another.  The chart below compares the features of six major search engines, allowing users to judge which might be right for the research at hand.  Keep in mind that the best research approach will be flexible and creative, combining a number of different search tools, and possibly several search engines.

**For permission to distribute this search engine comparison chart for educational purposes, please contact Diana Botluk.**


Comparison of Major Web Search Engines

  AltaVista  
www.altavista.com
Excite 
www.excite.com
HotBot 
www.hotbot.com
Infoseek 
infoseek.go.com
Lycos 
www.lycos.com
WebCrawler  
webcrawler.com
Search Content web pages 

usenet 

media files 

e-mail addresses 

company information 

links to abcnews.com for news articles

web pages 

media files 

e-mail addresses 

company information 

news articles 
 
 

web pages 

usenet 

media files 

news articles 

e-mail addresses in cooperation with BigYellow 

company information in cooperation with at hand

web pages 

usenet 

e-mail addresses 

company information 

news articles

web pages 

usenet 

media files 

news articles 

e-mail addresses in cooperation with WhoWhere? 

company information in cooperation with GTE

web pages 

news is a WebCrawler channel option 

e-mail addresses 

company information

Search Language Default searching is alternative 

Include words with plus sign (+) (simple search); AND or ampersand (&) (advanced search) 

Search for alternate words with OR or the pipe symbol (advanced search) 
 

NEAR or tilde (~) searches for words within 10 of each other (advanced search) 

Exclude words with minus (-) (simple search); NOT or exclamation point (!) (advanced search) 

Search phrases by placing words in quotation marks ("") 
provides forced phrase searching - two terms together compared to internal thesaurus of phrases which recieve priority 

lower case searches are case insensitive; upper case searches force case sensitivity 

Truncate words with an asterisk (*) 

Nest searches with parentheses

Default searching is alternative 

Include words with plus sign (+) or AND 

Search for alternate words with OR 

Exclude words with minus (-) or AND NOT 

Search phrases by placing words in quotation marks ("") 

Truncation not necessary with concept searching 

Nest searches with parentheses

Default searching is inclusive 

Include words by choosing "all the words," the option "must contain" on the super search form; using AND, a plus sign (+) or an ampersand (&) with the Boolean expression option 

Search for alternate words by choosing "any of the words" on the search form; or using OR or the pipe symbol (|) with the Boolean expression option 

Exclude words by choosing "must not contain" on the search form; or by using minus (-), NOT or the exclamation point with the Boolean expression option 

Search phrases by choosing "exact phrase" on the search form or by using quotation marks ("") 

lower case searches are case insensitive; mixed upper/lower case searches are case sensitive 

Truncate words with an asterisk (*) or use "enable word stemming" on the form 

Nest searches with parentheses with the Boolean expression option

Default searching is alternative 

Include words with plus sign (+) or use "must" on the advanced form 

Exclude words with a minus sign (-) or the "should not" option on the advanced form 

Search phrases by placing words in quotation marks ("") or putting hyphens (-) between them; or the "phrase" option on the advanced form 

Phrase searching for proper names by searching with upper case initial letters 

lower case searches are insensitive; initial capitals force case sensitivity 

Default searching is inclusive 

Include words with AND, the plus sign (+), or by choosing "all the words" on the advanced search form 

Search for alternate words by using OR, or by choosing "any of the words" on the advanced search form 

Exclude words with NOT or a minus sign (-) 

Phrases are searched using quotation marks (""), or use 
ADJ: words must appear next to each other 
ADJ/#: terms must appear exactly specified number of words apart 
OADJ: same as ADJ, but words must be in specified order 
OADJ/#: same as ADJ/#: but words must be in specified order 

Also use a wide variety of proximity connectors:NEAR, NEAR/#, ONEAR, ONEAR/#, FAR, FAR/#, OFAR, OFAR/#, BEFORE 

Nest with parentheses (), brackets [], braces {}, or angle brackets <> 
 

Default searching is alternative 

Include words with AND or plus sign (+) 

Search for alternate words with OR 

Indicate word proximity with NEAR/#, replacing the number sign with the desired proximity (number of words) desired 

Exclude words with NOT or minus sign (-) 

Search phrases  by placing the phrase in quotation marks ("") 

Nest searches with parentheses

Search Restrictors Form based date restriction available with advanced search 

Searches can be limited to a particular language 

Searches may be restricted by the following: title, anchor, text, applet, object, link, image, url, host, domain 

Example: to search for web pages with llrx in the url, add url:llrx to the search statement

Restrict by language, country, or domain type on advanced search form Restrict by date on the search form or by using after:, before: or within: 

Searches may be restricted by location, media type, or date. Complete these portions of the search form. 

Other restrictors available: title:, domain:, depth:, feature:, linkdomain:, linkext:, newsgroup:, scriptlanguage:

Field restricted searches are available for the following fields: 
link:, site:, url:, or title:; these can also be restricted on the advanced form 

Advanced form also allows restriction by location and category

Restrict to title, url, or language on the form 

Searches can also be restricted to the Top 5% Best of the Web

 
OtherSearch Features AltaVista translates results into several different languages!!! 

Special photo & media finder 

Related searches can be performed by clicking on terms determined to be related to original search 

Advanced search give keywords extra weight by placing them in the ranking field 
 
Refine feature lists topics and related words which may be specifically included or excluded from the search 

Default searching is inclusive/alternative using concept searching. Concept searching will search for other word forms and synonyms beside the keyword typed into the search statement. 

Use of Boolean operators forces keyword searching. 

A similar searches option  from the results display allows researchers to let Excite construct a new search to retrieve relevant sites. Find a relevant site on the results display and click on similar search. Excite uses that page as an example on which to base a new search.

Sophisticated form based search interface makes advanced searching easy. There is no need to investigate appropriate search language. 

Direct Hit technology displays top ten most popular pages from given results at the top of the results display 

A list of possible related searches from which to choose appears above the Direct Hit results

Allows searching within a previous set of results by using the pipe symbol (|) or choosing to search the results from the bottom of the display 

Allows a new search to find pages similar to a chosen result 

Offers possible related searches by clicking on a generated list of similar terms

Allows searching within a previous set of results 

Allows a new search to find pages similar to a chosen result 

Advanced search form also provides options for searching books, cities, dictionary terms, recipes, stocks & weather

Allows a secondary search to find similar pages from an initial result
Results Display Display reveals short summary, url, file size, page date and language

Word count reveals the number of times each search term appears

Translation option allows translation of any page

User can sort results by site or relevancy

Display reveals url, relevancy score and summary

Results show hits in directory first, then web, then news

Full descriptions include relevancy score, summary and url

Search form allows users to set results to full descriptions, brief descriptions, or urls only

Results clustering prevents all top hits from being from same site
 

User can hide or display site summaries or sort by date

Display reveals url, relevancy score, file size, date and summary

Results clustering prevents all top hits from being from same site

Results include abstract and url

Results clustering prevents all top hits from being from same site

Results also display hits in categories, news articles, and "first & Fast" - the most popular links

User can hide or display site summaries

Display reveals url, relevancy score and summary

Web Directory Included? yes

AltaVista Categories

Yahoo! searching also links to AltaVista

yes yes yes

GO Network

yes

Lycos Web Guides and Top 5%

yes

WebCrawler Channels