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Testing Search-Engines


John Simkin
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Google now dominates the search-engines market. According to Media Metrix, Google provide 54% of search results. The next two were Yahoo and MSN Search. Other popular search-engines include Ask Jeeves, AltaVista, Lycos and Teoma.

I thought I would test them out. I believe I have the best web page on a person called Bernardo de Torres. He has worked for the CIA on covert operations since the late 1950s. He is currently living in the USA embassy in Chile and is carefully protected by the CIA. If the CIA were interfering in search-results, that Bernardo de Torres would be one of those who they would protect.

I therefore typed in “Bernardo de Torres CIA” in all the leading search-engines. The results were interesting.

Google (1st)

Yahoo (1st)

MSN Search (not in the database)

Ask Jeeves (1st)

AltaVista (1st)

Lycos (1st)

Teoma (1st)

Dogpile (1st)

From this it appears that MSN Search cannot be trusted. However, there seems little between the others. Yahoo had the most pages with this combination of words. Google was just behind. The rest were some way behind.

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I log hits at my business website, and I can also identify which search engine and which search terms visitors use to find us. Here are the latest figures:

Google - 69%

Yahoo - 10%

Alta Vista - 8%

MSN - 7%

Lycos - 1%

Others - insignificant

I searched for my name. Google found my CV page and listed it as No. 1. MSN also found my CV page and listed it as No. 7. Yahoo also found the page and listed it as No. 3 - but listed another of my pages as No. 1. Alta Vista found the same pages as Yahoo, listing them respectively as No. 4 and No. 2.

I'm very pleased with this result!

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I believe Yahoo is powered by Google. It certainly seems to be the case that when Google is unobtainable so is Yahoo.

As for MSN, unreliable is Microsoft's middle name!

In the end an open source alternative will be forged I do not know if nutch will be it but their website says the following:

Nutch is a nascent effort to implement an open-source web search engine.

Web search is a basic requirement for internet navigation, yet the number of web search engines is decreasing. Today's oligopoly could soon be a monopoly, with a single company controlling nearly all web search for its commercial gain. That would not be good for users of the internet.

Nutch provides a transparent alternative to commercial web search engines. Only open source search results can be fully trusted to be without bias. (Or at least their bias is public.) All existing major search engines have proprietary ranking formulas, and will not explain why a given page ranks as it does. Additionally, some search engines determine which sites to index based on payments, rather than on the merits of the sites themselves. Nutch, on the other hand, has nothing to hide and no motive to bias its results or its crawler in any way other than to try to give each user the best results possible.

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Derek writes:

All existing major search engines have proprietary ranking formulas, and will not explain why a given page ranks as it does. Additionally, some search engines determine which sites to index based on payments, rather than on the merits of the sites themselves.

So, I wonder how my name was found so easily and ranked so high. I'm not the only Graham Davies in the world. I don't pay anyone to rank my Web pages and I don't feed my Web pages to search engines. I do, however, pay careful attention to the keywords that I list in the metatags - but in the case of my CV page there are only three keywords/phrases, one of which is my name. My Web page does not get a lot of hits - only around 40 per day on average - so hit-rate can't be an important factor.

I have reason to be grateful to Google. Just before Christmas I posted a message to this Forum concerning my family background. A couple of weeks ago a long-lost relative of mine found the message via Google and contacted me via the Forum to check that we were actually related. Indeed we are. He's a second-cousin of mine (one I didn't know about), and we have since exchanged several emails and talked on the telephone. We are both keen on genealogy and between us we have managed to build up an impressive family tree. Google worked for us!

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I think the problem which was being referred to was that the ranking rationale is not transparent. The idea of an open source search engine is that the ranking of websites would be fair and openly accessible. If people find ways of tricking the ranking formula there would be thousands of eyes watching the process and offering solutions because it would not be a "business secret".

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