Are Search Engines the Beginning of the End?
When fiction looks to the future, humans always seem to find a way to engineer their own demise. Particularly, pop culture is rife with plotlines centering around a complex system designed to serve our interests with access to unlimited information, deciding to purge, manipulate, subjugate or otherwise destroy humans. (Skynet from the Terminator series, the Matrix from The Matrix, HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, VIKI from I, Robot, the AutoPilot from Wall・E, etc.)
Wait! Complex system? Access to unlimited information? Egads, man! Humanity ends when Google becomes intelligent! Whatever version of the future you look to, we can't seem to create a Google or a Yahoo that doesn't try to kill us when it begins to think on its own.
Now, having read a certain CNN article, I learn that Google and Yahoo (and yes, you too, MSN...) are not the sole sources for the future's worry. There are several more search engines that could pose a threat should they one day reach sentience. With this in mind, I have created a brief guide to some of these lesser-known search engines with all the information you need to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and to see the warning signs of the impending Apocalypse.
The Guide to the Four Search Engines of the Apocalypse
Info: I am told that this is actually pronounced "cool", not "quill" or "kill." At one point it was self-purported to be "the great Google killer", but it has since shrunk its claim to "better than AltaVista."
Strengths: Places a picture with each result, has "suggested terms" tabs for a more defined search, and sometimes gives you subcategories within a bigger category off to the side (ex: when I typed "puppies" into the search box, the box to the right gave me a whole slew of dog breeds placed in subcategories according to type of breed or place of origin. Mind= blown.)
Weaknesses: It's debatable whether it actually returns more relevant results than Google, or whether anyone will actually use it consistently. The organization of it's result pages take a little time to get used to.
Danger Rating (1-10): 5. If it comes to an Us vs. The Search Engine revolution, look to Cuil.com to talk big, but only get as far the enslavement of its own employees.
Info: Kosmix.com is not trying to be Google, which is fine. It pulls all search results from mostly media-oriented websites such as Hulu, Youtube, Wikipedia, eHow, EBay, Mahalo, and more.
Strengths: If you don't want to take the time to search each of these sites for something, you can go to Kosmix and it will arrange them all together.
Weaknesses: But can't you do this in Google already by clicking on the Video category or the Blog category or the News category when you do a search? It lacks any sort of search sophistication. All it really does is aggregate the searches of all the sites, which explains why it just pulls the first instance of the keyword it can find on any of its listed sites. When I typed in 'SEO', the result I got for many of the sites referred to a common Korean family name.
But it's possible that Kosmix was not targeted towards me. Staring at the main page makes me feel like I'm standing in line at the checkout of a grocery store surrounded by headlines like, “Is Jennifer Aniston dating Brad’s clone?!”
Danger Rating (1-10): 3. Warning signs of an impending attack by this SE will be precluded by mobs of enraged people rioting in the streets after learning that the magazine rack has been inexplicably pulled from their grocery stores.
Info: Hakia makes three claims in an effort to set itself apart: 1) their search results are "quality"- based not "popularity"-based because relevance is based on the recommendations of librarians. 2) they represent the most recent information available. and 3) the results remain absolutely relevant to the query.
Strengths: Kissing up to librarians is possibly one of the best ways to indoctrinate yourself into the minds of the younger generation, who are still doing supervised reports in the school library ("No, don't use Google to look up the information, use Hakia. It gives real information.") Also, the claim that a librarian based search is not based on popularity is indeed a credible one.
Weakness: But is librarian based search up-to-date or relevant to the query?
Danger Rating (1-10): 7. A Hakia-based apocalypse will not be the work of machines, but of librarians. You'll know it's coming when any search on Wikipedia returns, "Ask your local librarian."
Info: Using the power of math, census information and a variety of other trusted sources of information, Wolfram Alpha delivers statistical information and definitions on a huge variety of topics.
Strengths: I tried a variety of different queries and found information like population, demographics, etc. I learned how popular the name Jeffrey is, compared it to the name Scott (Jeffrey wins!), found the age breakdown and more. Typing in "hot dogs" brought up "frankfurter" and gave me the nutrition facts, with a break down of fats and fatty acids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
But there's no mystery as to where Wolfram Alpha draws its vast table of knowledge. A link on the bottom of each result gives you a long reference list, some with working links. Wolfram Alpha excites the statistician within me I didn't know existed.
Weaknesses: Wolfram Alpha will probably never replace Google. In fact, most searches allow you to click a 'search the web' link on the right which takes you to Google. The syntax for queries is very rudimentary at this point, and straying from it can leave you without answers.
Danger Rating (1-10): 9. Of all the SE's that could someday hunt us down, Wolfram Alpha has the scariest sounding name. Combine this with its access to a mindboggling amount of information, and I expect that the only way to stop this SE from annihilating us will be to send someone back in time to stop it from launching, generating all sorts of temporal shift headaches, paradoxes, at least 4 movies, and a California governor.
A Final SEO Warning
Will these four replace Google or Yahoo? Probably not, but they do represent a new way to search, and a new way to enslave humanity. As SEOs, we stand in a unique position to not only understand Search Engines, but to protect humanity from the machines, and terrible search results. Use the knowledge wisely.