Multi-search Engines - a comparison.

Introduction

This article provides information on searching the Internet using Multi-search engines, rather than individual search engines, discusses the theory of how these things work, their advantages and disadvantages and finally presents the reader with a small tabular comparison of some major Multi-search engines.

Why use a Multi-search engine?

At the time of updating (February 2003) there are at least 150,000 different search engines (you can view the ones which I use most by visiting my search engine page) available which cover both general and specific subjects, or which search specific elements of the Internet such as Web pages or Usenet.
While some of these are particularly effective and sophisticated none of them are entirely comprehensive. They may only use a small database from which to create your set of results (Yahoo for example only indexes a very small proportion of the 3 billion pages indexed by Google), or they may not be updated particuarly quickly (Alltheweb is updated every fortnight or so, while Google is updated monthly). Their spider programs may not be very fast, which means that their currency might not be a real reflection of the state of play on the Internet.
Consequently, even if you have a favourite search engine, or even several of them, to ensure anything like a comprehensive search you may need to use several of them before you are satisfied that you have found everything you require on a particular topic. A Multi-search engine may save you the trouble of going to a variety of different sites in order to run your search, or it may suggest a search engine which you had not considered, or perhaps did not even know about!

How do Multi-search engines work?

From the explorations that I have undertaken, there appear to be 3 different approaches which are in operation at the moment:

Each of these has their own advantages and disadvantages, so lets examine them in a little more detail.

Characteristics of Multi-search engines.

I have tried to put together a list of the different elements which one might expect to appear on a multi-search engine page. Unfortunately few, if any of the multi-search engines exhibit all of these elements, and indeed some will have very few of them.


Comparison of the search engines.

I am not going to pretend that this comparison is the result of highly scientific work; I have also not checked my results with the producers of the different engines, though I have tried to ensure accuracy. Due to the fast changing nature of the Internet however, you are advised to check the information for yourself, since it will doubtless become out of date quickly.

I chose Meta-search engines which offered as much variety as possible, and gave me examples of list, consecutive and simultaneous searches, and obtained the data for all of them on 25th February 2003. According to Yahoo there are at present a total of over 100 different sites offering engines of this type, so for a full list I would point you to them.

My conclusions, which are my own personal impressions, nothing more, are as follows.

I see no value whatsoever in the list approach. These are not examples of what I would regard as 'true' multi-search engines; anyone could put a list of these together and claim that they had created a multi-search engine when in actual fact all that they have done is be slightly creative with cut and paste facilities. The possible exception is Metasearch, which does automatically put your desired search terms into the appropriate places on the cut and paste search engines they have referenced. This approach also is unable to properly provide boolean operators etc, since the page does not interact with the search engines themselves, simply providing this front end cut and paste job. Worse, they are usually unable to offer much by the way of help screens, since this is dependant on the search engines themselves.

Consecutive multi-search engines were however much better. They did make attempts to integrate their page into the search engines, and so are generally better at providing a wider range of functions, although I still found that help screens and guides to searching were very limited. The major disadvantage of this approach is that it can take considerable time for the search to be completed, and the weak link is always going to be the slowest engine that they reference. However, they do seem to work reasonably well, and are certainly worth experimenting with.

Simultaneous search engines seem to be few and far between, but they are without a doubt the most effective. Superseek uses the Frames approach to overcome the problem of obtaining and displaying results on the screen, but this approach does mean that you have to have a frames compatible browser available, which not everyone will have. The search results screen also looks as though its come straight out of an aeroplane cockpit and is a little daunting when you first view it. However, it does not take long to get used to. They do also have a non-frames approach, but I did not try this out. Worth experimenting with.

My two favourites however are the Internet Sleuth and Savvy Search. Both were helpful, fast and efficient. I would be quite happy to use either or both of these to run a multi-search, and I would recommend them.

I would welcome comments, additions, updates and so on; please feel free to email me.

Tabular comparision of Meta-search engines.

Function. Ixquick Ez2www Kartoo Dogpile Vivisimo
List (1)
Consecutive (2)
Simultaneous (3)
Takes user to
search engine (4)
3 3 3 1 3
No. of search
engines referenced
10 8 15 14 35 (15 maximum per search)
Search WWW YES YES YES YES YES
Search Usenet NO YES NO NO NO
Search News YES YES NO NO YES
Search Images YES YES YES YES NO
Related searches YES YES YES NO NO
People NO NO NO NO NO
Any word Yes NO YES YES YES
All words YES with + YES with + YES YES YES
Parentheses YES NO NO NO NO
Phrase YES YES with ".." YES YES YES
Boolean YES NO NO NO YES
Truncation YES with * NO NO NO NO
Proximity YES NO YES NO NO
Field searching YES - 8 NO YES - 4 NO YES - 7
Limit on time NO YES YES NO YES
Limit on hits YES (exclude s/e's) YES (exclude s/e's) YES (exclude s/e's) YES (exclude s/e's) YES (exclude s/e's)
Varied display options NO YES YES NO YES
Collate results YES YES YES NO YES
Help screens YES NO YES YES YES
Directory option? NO YES NO YES NO
Language option? NO YES - 47 NO NO YES - 51
Summary NO YES YES YES YES
Advanced Search NO YES YES YES YES
           
FAQ NO NO NO NO NO
Comments Emphasis on UK engines
Very useful. Been around a
long time.
Excellent. Gets better
everytime I look at it.
The more I look at this
engine, the more I like it.
It's ok if you like that
sort of thing. I don't.
Very powerful.

Summary

The search engines in this category are almost all equally as good - it's very difficult to point at one and say that it's the best. The only one lagging behind is Dogpile, but the other four are virtually equal on merits. They're certainly a lot more powerful than they used to be. The previous version of this page is archived at mseng00.htm If you want to see the original version of this report it's archived at msengarc.htm

Single search engines.

If you are interested in having a look at a number of different single search engines, please visit my page which offers a comparison of these, and an appraisal of how they are used.


This page last updated on 26th February 2003 ©Phil Bradley.