Search Engine Smackdown

Google rules, and other search engines and directories are faded has-beens, says one search industry veteran. Nonsense! scoffs another, putting Google in its place and singing high praises for AltaVista.

Search engines are curious beasts. Though they're essentially nothing more than computer programs, people tend to get quite passionate about them, vigorously defending their "favorite" engine and often badmouthing the others.

Cory Doctorow, the irascible founder of the Open Cola project, has written an interesting diatribe describing why he loves Google, and savaging some of the older web search services with biting humor.

For example, he says AltaVista is the "largest collection of randomly organized documents in the world, a Web-accessible version of a library where all the books have been re-shelved by axe-grinding illiterates..." And Yahoo faced "scaling issues involved in this laudable effort (for 'scaling issues' here, substitute 'catastrophic failures')..."

This essay provoked a response from industry veteran Richard Seltzer, who long ago co-authored "The AltaVista Search Revolution." Countering Doctorow's pean to Google, Seltzer deftly illustrates some of Google's weaknesses and illustrates why AltaVista can be a better choice for certain types of searches.

Though Seltzer may be accused of having a soft-spot for AltaVista due to his long time connection with the engine, his comments are objective and he does make some valid and interesting points. He's also optimistic that AltaVista appears to be making a comeback.

The two articles have been picked up by Slashdot, and the discussion on this "forum for geeks" is lively and entertaining. It's refreshing to see spirited debate over the merits and drawbacks of the various search services. Read the articles, then check out the Slashdot discussion thread using the links below.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Panopticon
by Cory Doctorow

Google's Weakness and AltaVista's Strength
by Richard Seltzer

Slashdot Discussion: Google's Weakness, AltaVista's Strength
Slashdot users debate the merits and drawbacks of Doctorow's and Seltzer's articles. If you're new to Slashdot, I highly recommend becoming a member, and setting your "threshold" to 3 or higher. All Slashdot posts are "moderated" by users, and higher threshold settings reduce the number of comments you see, but (in theory, anyway) the quality of the posts you do see increases.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.