A new meta search engine offers speedy, relevant results, and some cool visualization features that actually make it easy to check out sponsored listings without leaving your result page.
ZapMeta is the creation of a team of college students that recently emerged from an eight month beta testing period. For a non-commercial offering, it's quite good, and is a good choice if you like the whole meta search approach to finding information on the web.
Results are initially displayed according to relevance. Tabs at the top of result pages let you quickly sort results by popularity, source, title, or domain -- a handy way to get different perspectives on the same query.
ZapMeta gives you some really great visualization tools that can help you pinpoint exactly what you're looking for. Emulating Vivisimo's "preview" feature, each result has a "Quick View" link that opens up the top part of the page directly in your result list.
If you like what you see, click the "Maximize" link and the entire page opens up -- still within the body of the result list. Quick Views work for both web results and sponsored listings, making it easy to check out advertisements without leaving your result page. ZapMeta's sponsored listings are provided by Find What.
ZapMeta has another feature called "result snapshots" that you can turn on or off. This feature displays thumbnail images of the page next to the result information. Various search engines have experimented with these types of thumbnails in the past, but the idea has never really caught on -- I suspect because of the overhead involved in creating the snapshots and in downloading them to result pages.
But ZapMeta's implementation works, because it's very speedy, and gives you a nice way to easily compare what result pages actually look like.
Another really nice feature is the link to "older versions" of result pages. This is a hardcoded link to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, allowing you to view copies of the page that have been archived over the years.
Related searches are also useful. Kevin Nguyen, one of the team members developing the engine, says they're provided by a "second party but further refined by our algorithm."
The advanced search page also gives you a lot of flexibility, including full Boolean and field searching capabilities, something that's not available at many meta search engines.
The preferences page provides several useful options. You can group results that are common from several engines, or display all results found. Set the number of results displayed, even up to having all results found.
ZapMeta allows you the choice to search eight search engines and the ODP. Notably missing from the mix is Google, though you can indirectly get Google results if you enable AOL's search.
Nguyen says that the company has no agreements with any of the search engines other than Gigablast. They are working on a deal with Yahoo to gain access to all of its engines (Yahoo, AltaVista and AlltheWeb). The lack of operating agreements could pose a potential problem for ZapMeta -- in the past the majors have denied access to meta search projects that used their traffic without some sort of monetization deal.
ZapMeta also offers a directory search, drawing on the Open Directory Project data, and a shopping search powered by Pricegrabber.
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