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Searching for the ideal search engine

Jul 12, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

Microsoft launched a “new and improved” search facility at a few weeks ago, and many people seemed to positively gush about how wonderful it is. But is it?

Microsoft launched a “new and improved” search facility at a few weeks ago, and many people seemed to positively gush about how wonderful it is. But is it?

In Network World’s story on the launch, Gartner analyst Allen Weiner said, “The primary enhancement you’ll find is in its interface, in the look and feel: a cleaner site that allows for a friendlier user experience.” He got that right. Following on the heels of Yahoo, MSN’s search results now also look like a pale rip-off of Google: search results on the left, ads on the right, sponsored links at the top – all in soft, cool colors. There’s none of the glitz and clutter of MSN’s home page, which can be somewhat jarring as you move back and forth between them.

But let’s face it, the test of a search engine is in the results, not in the page design. Putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t change that it’s still a pig.

I was getting ready to spend the Fourth of July weekend in the Northern California town of Point Arena, so I thought it might be worthwhile to use a search on the town’s name as a comparison item between MSN and Google. So I entered “Point Arena” (with the quotes, as Google has taught us to do with phrases) into the MSN search box. The result is . Note the two sets of quotes around the name. I re-entered the phrase without quotes, and MSN quickly returned results – more than 860,000 of them! (Google, by comparison, returns 86,000 on “Point Arena” with the quotes). MSN included “Flashpoint Arena” as result No. 7, which is some sort of game site and has nothing to do with any California city.

So I then click on “advanced search” and choose “exact phrase” as the thing to search on. This retrieves 12,000 results – but still includes the “Flashpoint Arena” site (still No. 7)! At least all 20 results on Google’s first results page are relevant. (By the way, Yahoo returned about 61,000 results of which the top 20 were all relevant.)

I’ll agree that MSN’s new search results pages look very nice. But when I want fast, accurate, relevant results, I’ll stick with my Google, thanks.

Tip of the Week

It’s a busy July for this peripatetic pundit as I put in appearances at the Catalyst conference (San Diego), Open Source Conference (Portland, Ore.) and LinuxWorld (San Francisco). Stop me in the aisles and tell me what you’d like to hear more about (or less about, for that matter!).