Search Engines

Sections of this page:

Basic Search Engines

Meta-search sites

Web Searching tutorials on the web

Other search-engine sites

AltaVista ***

AltaVista is consistently one of the largest search engines on the web, in terms of pages indexed. Its comprehensive coverage and wide range of power searching commands makes it a particular favorite among researchers. It also offers a number of features designed to appeal to basic users, such as "Ask AltaVista" results, which come from Ask Jeeves (see below), and directory listings primarily from the Open Directory. AltaVista opened in December 1995. Ask Jeeves * Ask Jeeves is a human-powered search service that aims to direct you to the exact page that answers your question. If it fails to find a match within its own database, then it will provide matching web pages from various search engines. The service went into beta in mid-April 1997 and opened fully on June 1, 1997. Results from Ask Jeeves also appear within AltaVista.
Direct Hit ***
Direct Hit is another site, similar to Open Directory Project, that licenses its services to a number of other, more well-known sites.  These include MSN, AT & T Worldnet, Hotbot, and Lycos.  Their motto is "One Search Engine, Millions of Minds", due to their unique method of analysis.  It "works by anonymously monitoring which sites searchers select from the search results list, how much time they spend at these sites and a number of other metrics, such as the position of  a site relative to other sites. The sites that are selected by searchers are  boosted in their ranking, while the sites that are consistently ignored by  searchers are penalized in their rankings.   In this manner, the Direct Hit effectively harnesses millions of human decisions being made each day by the millions of Internet searchers to provide more relevant and better organized search results. It's as if Direct Hit has millions of editors classifying millions of sites everyday."  You can read more about their technology by viewing their white paper here.

Excite ***

Excite is one of the most popular search services on the web. It offers a medium-sized index and integrates non-web material such as company information and sports scores into its results, when appropriate. Excite was launched in late 1995. It grew quickly in prominence and consumed two of its competitors, Magellan in July 1996, and WebCrawler in November 1996. These continue to run as separate services.
FAST Search ***** Formerly called All The Web, FAST Search aims to index the entire web. It was the first search engine to break the 200 million web page index milestone (and is now over 300 million).  The Norwegian company behind FAST Search also powers the Lycos MP3 search engine. FAST Search launched in May 1999.  One of my favorites that I use all the time, and a favorite of librarians everywhere.  Not just big, but fast also.
Google **** Google is a search engine that makes heavy use of link popularity as a primary way to rank web sites. This can be especially helpful in finding good sites in response to general searches such as "cars" and "travel," because users across the web have in essence voted for good sites by linking to them.  Also uses Open Directory Project for "similar page" results.   HotBot *** Like AltaVista, HotBot is another favorite among researchers due to its large index of the web and many power searching features. In most cases, HotBot's first page of results comes from the Direct Hit service, and then secondary results come from the Inktomi search engine, which is also used by other services. It gets its directory information from the Open Directory Project.  HotBot launched in May 1996 as Wired Digital's entry into the search engine market. Lycos purchased Wired Digital in October 1998 and continues to run HotBot as a separate search service. Inktomi
Inktomi isn't really a search engine site, in fact you can't even search at their site.  They are a company that "crawls" the web, indexing sites, then licenses the resulting index to other sites.  They currently provide results for about 90 other sites, including Yahoo, Hotbot, and Snap.  Probably the biggest of this type of service out there.

Lycos **

Lycos started out as a search engine, depending on listings that came from spidering the web. In April 1999, it shifted to a directory model similar to Yahoo. Its main listings come from the Open Directory project, and then secondary results come from either Direct Hit or Lycos' own spidering of the web. In October 1998, Lycos acquired the competing HotBot search service, which continues to be run separately.   Northern Light ** Northern Light is another favorite search engine among researchers. It features one of the largest indexes of the web, along with the ability to cluster documents by topic. Northern Light also has a set of "special collection" documents that are not readily accessible to search engine spiders. There are documents from thousands of sources, including newswires, magazines and databases. Searching these documents is free, but there is a charge of up to $4 to view them. There is no charge to view documents on the public web- only for those within the special collection. Northern Light opened to general use in August 1997.
Open Directory Project According to them: "The Open Directory Project's goal is to produce the most comprehensive directory of the web, by relying on a vast army of volunteer editors. Instead of fighting the explosive growth of the Internet, the Open Directory provides the means for the Internet to organize itself. As the Internet grows, so do the number of net-citizens. These citizens can each organize a small portion of the web and present it back to the rest of the population, culling out the bad and useless and keeping only the best content. The Open Directory is a self-regulating republic where experts can collect their recommendations, without including noise and misinformation." The staggering list of sites using ODP data includes HotBot, Google, and Netscape. My results in brief testing range from average to very good, and a testing done by the GPO (Government Printing Office) indicated that it was the best at returning GPO access resources in search results.
Yahoo **** Yahoo is the web's most popular search service and has a well-deserved reputation for helping people find information easily. The secret to Yahoo's success is human beings. It is the largest human-compiled guide to the web, employing about 150 editors in an effort to categorize the web. Yahoo has over 1 million sites listed. Yahoo also supplements its results with those from Inktomi. If a search fails to find a match within Yahoo's own listings, then matches from Inktomi are displayed. Inktomi matches also appear after all Yahoo matches have first been shown. Yahoo is the oldest major web site directory, having launched in late 1994.

Meta-Search Sites

Ixquick (AOL, Altavista, Excite, Alltheweb, Goto, MSN, Snap, Webcrawler, Yahoo!, Hotbot, Infoseek, Live Directory, LookSmart, Lycos) **** Ixquick searches many (14) prominent engines simultaneously (in parallel).

Ixquick translates your search into each search engine's syntax.

You can perform natural language or complex boolean searches with Ixquick. Ixquick supports phrases, wildcards, omitted terms, must-have terms, parentheses, and other modifiers such as NEAR, because Ixquick knows which search engines can cope with which complex searches.

Ixquick eliminates duplicates.

Ixquick awards one star for each search engine that placed a site in its top ten. Since different search engines value different content, a site that appears in multiple top ten lists is likely to be very pertinent!

Ixquick prioritizes sites that appear earlier in the top ten rankings--and tells you the rankings.

Ixquick upholds the democratic ideal of one search engine, one vote, even when a search engine mentions the same site often in its top ten.

Ixquick lets you jump directly to the search engines when an engine's results seem particularly valuable to you.

Profusion (Altavista, Excite, Infoseek, Looksmart, Webcrawler, Yahoo!, Goto, Alltheweb, Snap) ****

 Mamma (Yahoo!, Goto, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos, Webcrawler, Altavista)

Web Searching Tutorials

The Spire Project has an excellent site. Besides explaining features on a handful of the major search engines, it goes through a philosophy of searching, explaining some general techniques for finding information. (

This site is another one with a thorough explanation of what different features are, which sites have them, and how to use them. (

Other search engine related sites


Search engine showdown provides lots of comparisons between engines, as well as statistical analyses of various aspects of them (number of pages indexed, dead links, unique hits, overlap). (

Search engine colossus is the mother of all...somethings. It has compiled a bunch of country-specific search engines, as well as some subject-specific ones. For example, if you wanted to find a search engine for sites in Mauritius, or one that searches only medical sites, this is the place! ( ) claims to "list 'em all". Has links to a ton of subject-specific search engines, as well as the usual mainstream sites. Lots of advertising, though.

-Marc Tiar 6/00