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Moving away from Google

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 17, 2007
(Issue 2533, Google Again?)

With a recent study showing that Google accounts for almost half of all Web searches, with Yahoo a distant second at about one-fourth of all searches, folks who worry about any one company getting too powerful are starting to look at Google a bit the way we all look at Microsoft or Wal-Mart.

It's not that Google has necessarily done anything wrong.

It's more that anytime a business gets too much control of what we do it's enough to make the rest of us a bit uneasy.

With Google starting to look like a monopoly in the arena of search engines – as well as branching out into e-mail, online advertising, online news and other fields, it behooves the rest of us to maybe find out what alternatives exist to the services Google offers.

Search engines

Going to a search engine page and typing in your search is soooo yesterday.

Okay, it probably still accounts for most online searches – but with most of the Web browsers now including a built-in search window, and with more and more Web sites including a search form, the chances of Google dominating Web searches are greater than ever.

Let's face it: If you're looking for one of my old record reviews and you're already on, you're at least likely to use the search form I have on my site.

As I write this, it's Google on most pages, with Yahoo on others.

Google has the contract to handle all of MySpace's searches; Friendster also features the Google search engine on its site.

If Google is handling all the searches on all the popular Web sites, we're all stuck with the ranking Google uses for ordering the Web sites returned on our searches.

Which may be fine – but surely, having competition in ranking search results is going to result in a healthier Internet experience.

It may seem a rather benign activity, running a search engine.

But if you control half of all searches, you implicitly can determine in large part what people see online.

All search engines have (closely guarded and secret) formulas for ranking search results. No matter what these formulas are, they're gonig to reflect certain values and philosophies of those who write them.

Nothing at all sinister in that – but do you want one relatively small group of folks to have their values shape what the rest of us see?

When we did their Internet searches by typing in or, back in the days before "Google" became a verb as well as a noun, it was fairly easy to establish your search engine in the market. Advertise a bit, make sure your Web searches returned quality and quantity, and you were good to go.

For a long time, if you wanted to add a free search to your Web site, you were limited to Google. Yahoo now offers a similar tool.

You can customize the size (width and height), colors and whether the tool defaults to search your site or the Web.

Best of all, it's free – the Yahoo Search Builder tool walks you through a series of easy to fill out menus, and then provides you the code to plug into your site's pages.

You can even customize the search results page so your logo is at the top of the page, hyperlinked back to your site.

All in all, it's as good as Google's free search tool for Web sites.

Browser searches

As mentioned above, most browsers – the latest versions of Firefox, Netscape, Opera, IE and Safari – all have built-in search windows. On many of them, Google is the default.

On all of them, though, you can change that so that you get a different search engine on future searches. Yahoo and MSN are the other popular choices, along with Netscape and AOL (which uses Google as its search partner, kind of taking away the incentive to choose it in the first place).

Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with using Google.

But making sure the competition has a big enough piece of the search pie ensures that we have a choice in what search engine we use down the road.