Following my last post a friend told me that switching to Microsoft’s Live Search was not the best idea and I should research other options. So I did, looking specifically for sites that are new and different (because, after all, it is quite possible that in the Google’s shadow a novel and better idea for retrieving information from the Web could be emerging yet unnoticed).

Of the sites I’ve found I reviewed the following: Cuil, Powerset, Clusty, Jux2 and Viewzi.

Of those I like Clusty and Viewzi most.

Powerset is merely an interface to Wikipedia, which is, I think, rather pointless as Wikipedia has a great interface already.

Jux2 simply combines results from Google, Yahoo and Live Search in one Google-ish list of results. It has one feature that can be handy for SEO types – it displays rank of each of the results in each of the original engines. But, I think, there are many SEO tools that do it much better than Jux2 and other than this it is unimpressive. Thumbs down on this one, too.

Cuil is interesting, however the results are ordered in a way I don’t get. How Cuil ranks the results (determines what is important and what is not) is clearly different from other engines, which is a big plus (shows some innovative thinking). I’m not sure, though, I like the effect, because what was ranked best was not what I’d describe as best. On the other hand on my test searches Cuil did return a few pages no other engine did, which is another advantage. This means I’ll keep Cuil in my Firefox search box for those extensive searches when I really want to unearth any piece of info on a given topic that I can lay my eyes on.

Clusty on the other hand tries to organize the results in groups it calls clusters. On some of my test searches they were helpful, on some they were meaningless, but I think they are a good idea overall. The tab with domains is a nice way to see at a glance where there are many sites about a given topic, which is also nice.

Clusty is merely organizing results from other search engines, but it offers different profiled searches – searches for jobs, blogs, images etc. – using different source engines, which makes results interesting. Good starting point, I’d say, when looking for something on the web – especially if you don’t want to see it through Google’s goggles (Google is not included as one of the source engines).

Last of the engines I reviewed today – Viewzi – is different only by its user interface. While it is largely Flash powered (which is a drawback) it is kind of cool. It offers different graphical views for presenting the results and really I like the Web Screenshot view. It allows you to see the pages found without opening them in other windows or tabs, which makes it much much easier to decide at a glance whether a given page is worth a visit or not. Nice for lazy evening searches. :)

Last but not least there is our own little experiment at searching – the Sprinters Search. While not as useful as the sites above – after all this is just a concept demonstrator – it shows what I’d like a search engine to do – recognize what I’m after and explain to me what it is, while at the same time return the traditional relevant page results.

In any case – it is good we are not stuck with Google. Let’s not allow our mental inertia and habit to use only them – let’s look around for search companies that just provide searches – not try to shape the society.

Not even two weeks have passed since I wrote here about why the ubiquity of Google worries me and now Yahoo is falling into Google’s hands as well. TechCrunch first broke the news yesterday and now is reporting about the conditions of the deal (which are much better for Google) and criticizing Yahoo executives for, basically, giving up on their company and its fight for a place in the Net.

In any case this is clearly a step in the direction of Google becoming the only search engine known worldwide. That would mean a single entity having monopoly over who gets traffic and who doesn’t. Or, in other words, deciding which content is visible and which is not. And this is for sure bending the worldview of its users – if not intentionally then as a result of the SEO experts’ efforts.

This is why I did choose to use Microsoft’s Life Search instead. Joe Ziz commented asking why switch to a search that is not better and is run by a corporate behemoth too.

You see – the point here is not using something technically better but different. If my worldview – as affected by search results – has to be skewed I prefer it to be skewed in a different way. And the problem with search is that with current technology a good search engine requires resources no startup can build. That leaves Microsoft as the only viable competitor – they can match Google’s resources because they can afford it. Probably no one else in the industry can.

And I’m less afraid of Microsoft’s domination of the past than Google’s (near)monopoly of the present. Microsoft just reaped huge profits by selling low quality software, Google is dealing with a much more delicate matter: information.

Now, the big picture behind all this is whether freedom of speech on the Internet will be preserved or not. It is much more likely to survive if there is not too much concentration – that is if the Internet is indeed a neutral pipe connecting small and big alike and putting them on equal footing. If Google (and a few sites like it) dominates and if Net neutrality goes away (which is something all telcos would love to see – selling access to major sites like TV channels is a great idea for Mammon worshipers) then Internet will become as much a censored propaganda channel as TV and radio have became already.

And this is not impossible – the naive thinking of the early 90ies that because the Internet was designed to function after a series of nuke blasts it will be impossible to censor it was proven wrong by China and its Internet Police. In the end it turns out that even if it is technically doable to go around Internet censorship it doesn’t matter if it is too difficult for the majority of the population.

This is a grim vision. It might or it might not become reality. But it is worth knowing how much the shape of the Internet will affect the shape of the society in world’s industrial nations. Google’s influence is not to be underestimated.

I just realized today why I like going to conferences so much. It allows me to think.

This is so because usually getting to a conference involves travel and traveling has always induced high quality thinking in my brain. I don’t know why, but I find the whole experience of moving very inspiring. No matter if this is by plane, train or car my mental gears spin faster. This is a creative time also because this is usually a when I can’t use my computer, I’m not answering phone calls and generally I have less distractions.

In any case I’m finding out, that without a few hours of travel every month I’m deprived of some of my quality thinking time I used to have.

But the conference experience doesn’t end there – it also gives me time to actually listen to people talking about subjects of interest with full concentration. And ask them questions. Not possible with some interesting lectures available on Google Video and other sites. First, because it is surprisingly hard to find a free hour within a day to listen to them. Second, because there is no interaction.

Finally, on a conference I get usually a few hours of very good work on my computer in the evening. Again, precisely for the reason outlined above – less distractions.

Seems like I have to cut down distractions to move faster, the problem is that Internet is just one huge distraction. And with a laptop and Wi-Fi it is almost everywhere now.