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Google, Yahoo Add New Search Features

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Both Google and Yahoo have added new features designed to make it easier to find and track certain types of information that was previously difficult to locate with a search engine.

Google added five new features, including tracking and lookup utilities, similar to the "quick link" features introduced last month. The new features include:

Area Code Information. Enter a U.S. telephone area code into a Google search box (e.g. 760), and results feature a thumbnail map naming the geographic region at the top of the results page. Clicking the thumbnail displays the full Mapquest map of the area, a less useful result since it's an approximation, not an exact map, of the area code's coverage zone.

Universal Product Codes. Want information about a specific product? Enter its Universal Product Code (UPC), the number on the bottom of a bar code displayed on product packaging into the Google search box (e.g.: 074101420241). If the product can be found, results include a link to the UPC Database for more information.

This feature isn't well implemented -- two of the three tests I ran for reasonably common products returned zero results. Whether that's a problem with Google or the UPC Database isn't clear. You also need to be careful to enter all digits of the UPC code, including leading and trailing digits outside of the barcode, or you may not get results, either.

Flight Tracking. Enter an airline name or code and a flight number (e.g.: UA 44)and you'll get two links to flight information, from Travelocity and fboweb.com. This feature works well and is robust, accepting variations on the example above such as "united 44" and "ual 44", two other ways of referring to United Airlines. It only appears to work for major airlines, however -- I got no results for either Frontier or ATA airlines.

Vehicle ID Numbers. Enter a Vehicle ID number (VIN) (e.g. JM1BJ225431140254) returns a link from carfax.com for a page with more information about the year, make and model of a specific car.

U.S. Postal Service Tracking Numbers. USPS tracking numbers generate a direct link to the USPS website with information about the shipping status of a package.

These new features are available now on Google.com to English language users throughout the world. International versions will be available in the coming months.

Yahoo has also added flight tracking, and it works just like Google's, by entering an airline and flight number. Yahoo's results, however, are a co-branded version of Travelocity embedded within Yahoo Travel.

Yahoo seems to do a better job of tracking more airlines than Google (it found information on the Frontier and ATA flights that Google missed), but it accepts fewer variations on airline names or codes.

Bottom line: These features are useful and mostly helpful, if you have a Yahoo or Google search box or toolbar handy. But since they simply offer further links to more information, it's probably easier to go directly to the partner sites both are using and do these types of searches directly at the source.

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