When Google Instant launched early September, I tried it out the same day. But I have not used it since, as I hardly ever visit a search page to do a search. The browser search box has always served my purpose. But more importantly, I realized Google is no longer my primary search destination.

For most of us, Web search is synonymous with Google. We actually “google" for information, not search. This ubiquity means that we invariably fail to explore better ways to discover information that is more relevant, more quickly.

Picture perfect

Image search is conducted mainly when we need to use an image for a report or a presentation. But it can be a very good way to discover information as well. Image search for your regular search terms can throw up graphs and charts that can give you a visual cue as to where to look for the right information by navigating to the source page.

Keyword: Need-specific engines may be better.

The Q&A experts

This is a more recent class of search popularized by Yahoo! Answers. However, Yahoo! Answers suffers from a lack of accurate answers and has failed to become mainstream. But that is a problem you are unlikely to face with Quora (www.quora.com). This site is built on the Wiki philosophy, allowing users to ask and answer questions, edit questions, add topics to questions and vote an answer up or down. Each question has a page of its own and becomes a resource on its own about the question.

The USP of Quora is that you have founders, industry leaders and topic experts answering questions. For example, if you ask a question on Twitter, chances are its founder Evan Williams may end up answering it.

Quora is good when you want advice and answers to professional queries. But if you want to go out for dinner, or are going on vacation and want to find out about the best place to stay at your destination, you would like to trust family and friends. That is where Aardvark (http://vark.com) comes in. It is not really non-Google, since it was acquired earlier this year and may soon see its feature integrated into the Google experience.

Aardvark uses its own social search algorithm to determine the best person to answer your question from within your social network (right now only Facebook and Google contacts), including your friends and friends-of-friends. The site’s fairly sophisticated algorithm finds the right person(s) to answer a question based on various criteria and also takes care not to send all your questions to the same person every time.

Discovery factor

Real time and social search is more about discovery than finding answers to your queries, and is still a developing field. Real time search essentially pulls results for your queries from the newest articles, tweets, links and blogs on the Web. Right now the most popular destination for real time search is Twitter search (http://twitter.com/search). But there are other services as well, such as OneRiot (www.oneriot.com) and Google and Bing’s social search features.

Social search is slightly different in the sense that it analyses your social graph to give the results you would want. Something Aardvark does too, but with a more traditional search experience. Unfortunately we are not there still, primarily owing to issues related to privacy.

Finding the files

Many a time we search for a report, presentation or document that we know is out there but can’t find. In such cases, SlideShare (www.slideshare.net), Scribd (www.scribd.com) or Docstoc (www.docstoc.com) may be much better options. Not only is there a very good chance of finding the document you need, but also related documents that you did not know existed.

Web search ‘alternative’

I didn’t say “alternatives" because, for Web search, there is only one—Bing (www.bing.com). Yahoo is still a player but won’t be for too long after its search deal with Microsoft. On face value, Google and Bing don’t show widely different results. Fact is that search results are very much query dependent. For some, Google gives better results, for others, Bing. The qualitative differences today are too marginal to affect a regular user. The fact that Bing is doing things right is endorsed by the fact that Google has been inspired to borrow elements of Bing’s user interface.

Sometime during the period when Google was miles ahead of the competition we forgot anything else existed. A habit that most of us find difficult to change. I am not anti-Google. I want a better search experience where you find what you need, when you need.

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