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Alexa Meets Google

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Web navigation company Alexa has launched an intriguing new search engine powered by Google, offering powerful search tools with a number of unique twists.

Many people know Alexa as a web browser add-on tool, technically termed a "browser companion" that's downloaded as a toolbar. It's designed to help with web navigation, provide site information, and find related sites.

Alexa was started by Internet pioneer Brewster Kahle in the mid-90s. Brewster is also the founder of The Internet Archive, providers of The Wayback Machine web archive and The Television Archive. Alexa was acquired by Amazon.com during 1999.

Newer versions of the Alexa toolbar include a button that let you directly search the massive archives offered by The Wayback Machine. This can make accessing The Wayback Machine faster and easier since url's don't need to be retyped.

Alexa's new Websearch combines many of the toolbar features with a full-blown search engine powered by Google. When you reach the site the opening page contains web site traffic rankings, an "editors pick" (suggested websites, but Alexa's editors are apparently anonymous), and advertisements for Amazon.com. You'll also notice that the page looks and feels similar to an Amazon.com web page.

At the very top of the page you'll also see a search box. The database "powering" this search engine is the complete Google database. However, the layout and design of a results page looks very different than what you´re used to seeing at Google.com.

First, your result list includes thumbnail images of the first three hits. A great idea, except that each thumbnail is very small and difficult to read/identify. Nevertheless, I think we'll see more of this type of preview service in the future. For example, Vivisimo and WiseNut offer similar "preview" features that actually opens a live version of the page inside of the result list.

Next, you'll notice that each entry on the results page also contains a link labeled, "Details For." Selecting this link will take you to a page of "related info" about the particular page you've selected. This page has been designed to look almost identical to an entry page from the Amazon.com catalog.

Details for each site include traffic information, site ownership info (if available), and links to other pages of possible interest which are labeled as "people who visit this page also visit." Remember, this is querying an Alexa database of related site info. Google.com uses it's own database and algorithm to determine the "related sites" (what you see at Google.com). A category list to browse related pages in the Open Directory is also provided.

Inside a box along the left margin, you'll notice a link that will run a search on that specific url in The Wayback Machine. Finally, each page has a place where anyone can write a review or share comments about the page. Users can also easily email a link to the selected web page to any email address.

The Alexa Web Search beta offers just about all of the same services that the Alexa Toolbar offers merged with results from Google database. This is a great way for those who don´t want to or are unable to download the toolbar software to take make use of Alexa's services.

What don´t you get from Alexa Websearch? Here's a list of a Google services that are not available via the Alexa Search service:

  • Google Cache
  • Advanced Interface
  • Auto Conversion Version of PDF and other formats into HTML
  • Last Crawl Date (Selected Material)
  • Spelling Suggestions
  • Limiting by Language
  • Translation Services
  • Date Limiting
  • Added Services such as Stock Quotes, Phone Numbers, Maps
  • No Direct Links to Run Search in Google Groups, Google Images, Google Directory

Despite these limitations, a few sample searches shows that most of the Google limit syntax is available (intitle, inurl, link, site, filetype, etc.).

I had a chance to have a brief chat with a couple of Alexa representatives and learned that this new database is really of merging of data from Google and Alexa. This means Google is crawling the web and supplying search results and Alexa is also crawling the web to determine additional info (related links, picture images, etc.). I also learned that the page images offered on Alexa/Google for the "top 3" results on a results page are located in a database that is currently being built by Alexa.

The bottom line: The new Alexa Websearch is a robust and useful alternative to the primary Google database if you´re aware of the limitations mentioned above.

Gary Price (Gary Price Library Internet Research Consulting) is the author of the essential weblog for searchers, The Virtual Acquisition Shelf & News Desk.

Alexa Websearch
http://info.alexa.com/
A new search engine powered by Google.

Alexa Privacy Policy
http://www.alexa.com/help/privacy.html
Alexa users should be advised that a new "Terms of Service" went into effect on May 1st. Here, you can read precisely what changes are being made to the agreement.

Alexa Toolbar
http://download.alexa.com/alexa6/startpage.html
Information and instructions for downloading the free Alexa Toolbar.

Alexa Websearch Frequently Asked Questions
http://www.alexa.com/exec/faqsidos/help/index.html?index=19
Learn more about the method Alexa uses to determine "related links."

The Wayback Machine: A Web Archives Search Engine
SearchDay #127, Oct. 30, 2001
http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/01/sd1030-wayback.html
The Wayback Machine is a phenomenal search engine that contains over 100 terabytes and 10 billion web pages archived from 1996 to the present.

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