A search engines main purpose is to provide answers to the questions its users ask.
Of course we know that Google, Yahoo and MSN are the big three search engines. I was curious about all the other places that people visit to get their questions answered. How popular are they? So I went to Alexa and starting typing away and creating little charts. I understand all the issues surrounding Alexa data, so the list that follows is just for fun and is not scientific in any way. It is just a way to recognize some trends. There are sites on this list that are not true search engines. but are included because they do provide “answers”. I have grouped the sites in tiers. The tiers are highly subjective and do not really relate to anything other than an easy form of presentation. The charts represent Alexa data over the last year.
Tier 1 (Top 10): Yahoo, MSN and Google reside at 1, 2 and 3. MSN and Google seem to switch positions every so often. Keep in mind this is not number of searches performed or anything like that. Yahoo and MSN are used for so many things other than searching.
Tier 2 (Top 100): search.aol.com (23), About (55). True, AOL Search is simply Google repackaged. Just interesting to note that AOL still maintains quite an audience. About is not a search engine per se, but is a place to go to find answers. People have a love/hate relationship with About. For what it is, it is a handy resource.
Tier 3 (Top 200): Netscape (147), Ask (154), Altavista (176), Lycos (187) are all grouped close together. Ask is probably considered the “fourth” search engine solely because it does not rely as heavily upon Google to provide its results as the others do. It only receives paid results from Google.
Tier 4 (Top 500): Answers (253), IWon (373) I was surprised to see these two up this high on the list. Answers pulls in a lot of information from other sources, primarily Wikipedia. It is not a true search engine, but it does pull in web based results from Google. It’s clean format and easy to find “answers” is a key reason why it probably has grown in popularity. I use it myself when I just need to get to a straight answer rather than flipping through pages of sites in Google. I have never used Iwon. I assume it is popular because it is connected to games and prizes. Everyone wants to win something.
Tier 5 (Top 1000): Technorati (598), Alltheweb (662), Dogpile (731) and A9 (911). Technorati is primarily for blogs but I felt it should be included here. I am glad to see that Dogpile has increased in popularity. It currently is my search engine of choice.
Tier 6 (Top 5000): Search (1643), Hotbot (2914), Clusty(2964), Icerocket (3536), Mamma (3596). Hotbot used to be my favorite search engine back in 1999 until I came across Google. I am surprised it still sees the amount of traffic that it does. I am glad to see Icerocket making waves, though primarily a blog search engine. Clusty is probably the most underrated search engine. It is an excellent resource for finding “clusters” of topics. It is helpful in doing keyword research. I have never used Search nor Mamma and will have to mosey over there and test them out.
Tier 7 (Top 6000): dmoz (4057), Teoma (4272), Webcrawler (4852), Gigablast (5076), Metacrawler (5278), Entireweb (5698). There are a few surprises here. While I have enjoyed searching using a few of these sites, I often wondered if anyone really used them. These numbers confirm that they are still alive. DMOZ, though a directory and not a search engine, was included because of its importance in feeding results to numerous other engines. According to the chart it is seeing a resurgence in popularity after experiencing much user decline. Webcrawler was the first search engine I every used back in…back in who knows when. Gigablast is fast and I love gigabits. I had to leave Entireweb off the chart since these Alexa charts only handle five at a time.
Tier 8 and beyond: I didnt chart any of the search sites beyond the 6000 rank. But here are the numbers exalead (13702), snap (13934), inktomi (20348), fybersearch (31838) northernlight (46187), myriadsearch (92359), golexa (129052), Zniff (151970). I love the features in Exalead. The biggest dissappointments in this whole post are Snap and Northernlight. Snap seems to have had spurts over the years but then just fades away. Northernlight burst onto the scene in the late 90’s with much fanfare. It is now almost useless. There are several specialized engines included here. I don’t imagine they will make any great gains in popularity but they are fun nonetheless.
The one trend of note for the majority of these search engines is the downward progession of popularity. Over the next five years it will be interesting to see if they even still exist.