Like many others, I've come up with my annual list of lifestyle changes and habits I want to break as the new year begins. This year, I've extended those resolutions to include the part of my life that consumes a major chunk of my time: my searching behavior.
Break the Google Toolbar Habit
I've used the Google Toolbar daily ever since it was released more than four years ago. The year 2000 was the first full year that Google began to dominate the search, uh, zeitgeist, and its introduction of a simple but powerful Toolbar made using the search engine virtually a reflexive action.
Even though I liked many features introduced in other toolbar offerings from AltaVista, Teoma, Dogpile and others, I found that the using the Google Toolbar had become an ingrained habit, difficult to break.
Now it's time to break the habit. I've uninstalled the Google Toolbar from Internet Explorer and won't use it for another month.
Don't get me wrong: I still find the Google Toolbar incredibly useful, and its mix of features superior to many other offerings. The reason I want to break the habit is twofold. First, it only works with Internet Explorer, a browser I'm using less and less these days due to its sluggish performance and countless security issues.
Second, I've found the numerous search plugins available for Firefox to be excellent tools. With the increasing popularity of Firefox, Google really needs to create a version of the Toolbar that works with Mozilla browsers. The Googlebar plugin for Firefox is an excellent Google Toolbar clone—it would probably be a straightforward matter for Google try to acquire the code from its open source developers, or at the very least adapt the Google Toolbar to Mozilla based browsers.
Seek Multiple Opinions
And this leads me to my next resolution. I spent a good part of last year writing a book called Google Power. The book's focus is on strategies and tactics for unleashing the full potential of search engine. However, I also spent a lot of time exploring alternatives to Google, and was reminded once again of the rich online information resources we have available if only we take the time to find and use them.
Danny has referred to search engines as having unique "voices," offering "opinions" that differ greatly from one another about the web. I've found that by taking time to understand the "personalities" of each search engine, you begin to instinctively gravitate to one over another for different types of queries.
But who has time to run the same query on multiple engines? Sure, you can use a meta search engine like Dogpile or Clusty. But an easier way is to use one of the search engine comparison services launched last year.
The Thumbshots ranking tool shows you a visual display of the relative positions of the top 100 search results in two of the major engines. Think Google results are pretty much like Yahoo results? Think again—overlap is rarely above 50% for any query.
Jux2 runs your query simultaneously on Google, Yahoo and/or Ask Jeeves. Unlike meta search engines, which either aggregate results by source or post-process results with additional relevance filtering, Jux2 shows you which results are common or unique to each of the engines. A "What am I Missing" button shows you exactly what results appear in the top ten of Yahoo but not Google, or in Ask Jeeves but not Yahoo or Google.
Mine Bookmarks for Forgotten Gems
I stopped actively using bookmarks right about the time I first installed the Google Toolbar. I had collected thousands, my "organizational" scheme was a mess and hundreds of links were broken. Search had become reliable enough that keeping bookmarks no longer seemed necessary.
But I've started mining those bookmarks for forgotten treasures, and have rediscovered some terrific sites that wouldn't otherwise turn up on my radar these days. And I've been using two tools to help cope with problems I've mentioned above.
One is Bookmark Bridge, a simple utility that synchronizes bookmarks across multiple browsers like Internet Explorer and Firefox (caveat: this is a beta program and occasionally hiccups). The other is Bookmark LinkChecker, a Firefox extension that identifies and helps manage the deadwood.
Purge Unused Search Software and Tools
Just as I plan to lose some weight this year, I'm going to take some bytes off of my hard disk by removing all of the search software and tools I've downloaded over the past year that I'm no longer using. My tendency has been to keep little-used tools, on the off chance I might find a use for them. But with an always-on broadband connection there's no reason to continue doing this. It's easier to simply download the latest version whenever a need arises.
My rule of thumb: The Windows Add/Remove programs utility indicates when a program was last used. If I haven't run it in the past 30 days, it's toast.
What about you? Do you plan to change some aspect of your searching behavior this year? Join the Search Resolutions for 2005 discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums and share your own plans for the new year.
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