The search engine conundrum

The search engine conundrum

Summary: I was looking through the Channel 8 Students Union earlier on and noticed an important point concerning search engines. It's widely known that search engines are the most viewed websites on the Internet because they are the starting point to look for something.

TOPICS: Google, Browser

liveogle.pngI was looking through the Channel 8 Students Union earlier on and noticed an important point concerning search engines. It's widely known that search engines are the most viewed websites on the Internet because they are the starting point to look for something. We may even know the direct link to the website we're looking for, but sometimes people find it simpler to plug in a quick query to get there faster, after all we are getting more and more impatient when it comes to browsing.

I thought it would be a good idea to weigh up the differences and also to see which works better for students using the two most rivalled search engines in the world - Google and Live Search.

Which search engine is better for students? Which allows you access to the data faster, in a better readable format, and which ultimately benefits the user without raising blood pressure levels? I'm taking a stab in the dark at this one, with little-to-accurate results likely.

Note: for you eagle eyed nutters, people with too much time, those who hate me already readers, you'll notice these screenshots aren't 100% accurate. The data should be, but I've cropped and moved some bits around to get them to fit on screen without breaking the backend engine.

Test 1  - The Maths Question Most of you already know you can type in a simple maths query into a search engine and get an answer, or at the very least a link to a page which will help. I tried 3x + 2 = 15, which should give me a result for x. I know by working it out in my head it'll be around 4. I tried Google first.


It failed me. I'm impatient, I'm tired, and I haven't had a cup of tea in a while - I want an answer straight away and Google hasn't given it me. I tried Live Search next, with a much more desirable result.


My first result was the answer, and accurate to 6 decimal places too. It doesn't help when it's a recurring number, but even still, Google 0, Live Search 1.

Test 2  - The Geography Question A student isn't necessarily a solitary being - we need to move from place to place, normally to find more sources of alcohol. When that is the case, we rely on a good old web search to point us in the right direction. Say I wanted to get to Canterbury and I had no idea where it is (I realise now it's stupid, because I already live here, but go along with me for the time being). I'll tap it into a search engine. Live Search worked last time so this time it's first up.


What? I don't care about the news articles, I was hoping for pretty pictures telling me how to get there! I tap it into Google and get this:


Now that's more like it - a little map telling me where about it is in the country, and one click to a full size map for better viewing. What's better is the application of a start address, allowing me to tell Google where I want to travel from and it'll return driving directions. Without a doubt, Google 1, Live Search 1. Level pegging.

Test 3  - The Ultimate Question Philosophy students are well known for asking the impossible and questioning reality - but most students do that as they're stumbling to another bar after being kicked out the last one. In the spirit of the late Douglas Adams (of which his death confirms for me - exercise is bad for you), I thought it'd be a good idea to question both search engines for the ultimate question - the answer to life, the Universe and everything.



Both produce the same result, which means philosophy students will be happy content (at least) and drunken students can sleep easy that night. Google 2, Live Search 2.

Test 4  - The Scientific Question Everyone at some point will need to know that 26Mg is a radiogenic daughter product of 26Al but for the time being, a simple scientific answer needs to be on hand. Say you're a budding scientist and you need to quickly find out the electron configuration of Einsteinium - plug in a few keywords and hopefully we'll get a result straight away.


Again, except this time with Live Search rather than Google, impatience is definitely not a virtue and we want the answer here and now without any screwing around. Sure, the answer is there in the first result, but something big and bold would be nice to point it out. I try Google:


There we have it - written right at the top in bold letters to point it out to me. Considering most students seem to work well in the dead of the night, eyesight suffers and a visual indicator does help. Google 3, Live Search 2.

Test 5  - The Language Question Every student will need to look up a definition of a word at some point - whether you're doing a science degree and need to know what ionisation is, or studying 18th century Spanish history and don't know what enlightened absolutism is. Forget using a dictionary, you thought you could survive on Wikipedia. You need a definition function compatible with a search engine. In this case, I want to know what "defenestration" is:


Ahh - straight away we have a definition of defenestration, and a link to an external site. What's even better is Google returns often a .edu, or a .gov address which is deemed "more accurate" than other domains for the reason they have to be accurate. Not ruling out other search engines, I try Live Search anyway:


The define: function works in both search engines, but this is what really pisses me off. Live Search provides a link to its own MSN Encarta dictionary instead of providing links to other "more trustworthy" sites like seen in Google's results, that of Princeton University. I'll have you know I clicked the "No" link when it asked me whether it was useful. Even though the result was the same, the principle of not linking elsewhere shows they're greedy. Even students have principles - granted, not many, but still some. Because of this, Google 4, Live Search 2.

Overall I've come to the conclusion that even though Google seems to score higher in some areas, Live Search doesn't do too badly. They both have some impressive features, and everyone has their own person taste to which engine they prefer. I've always preferred Google, but the statistics don't lie - more people worldwide prefer Google, and in my understanding, so do students... [citation needed]

Topics: Google, Browser

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  • love it!

    Great article. More please...

  • All search engines lack clarity

    The simple truth is all text-based search engines lack clarity and reliability.

    Whenever I search for something, there are literally thousands of ranked results that have nothing to do with what I am doing, and why? Because there are millions of "clickthrough" sites that do nothing but consume content and repost it, with ad links, in the hope that the user will click through their site links and generate ad revenue...and the worst part is, this technique actually works.

    The bottom line is, more precision is needed, and that won't happen until users start indexing their content with more reliability and a search engine is able to start flagging content as useless...but, and I stress but, some startups that are doing this, like the one from that WIKI dude, will also fail at the task...why?

    Automation will defeat any army of humans you lock up in cubes trying "down" rate content sites. Its simple math actually: millions of automated zombie sites and processes that can handle url registration and DNS changes that run 24xforever...

    ...versus how many employees working X hours a day at these startups?
  • RE: The search engine conundrum

    agreed, love it too!

    Google is much better!
  • Fond memories of the universe

    I met Douglas Adams at a booksigning event in Ann Arbor Michigan year ago. My 1st edition autographed copy of So Long and Thanks for all the Fish is my most prized literary possession. British humor is the best in the world (the drier the better . . .)!

    I will pay homage to the man when my book comes out - and I pose the question whose answer is 42. The dolphins let me in on it . . . ;)
    Roger Ramjet
  • RE: The search engine conundrum

    Why wouldn't Google be better? They've been at it longer than MS! Both still have alot more to add. I have made some searches to outdated products and found not one thing. Just because they're not made anymore, do you think no one wants to find info for it?
    As for Live Search linking to there own, I would always assume the inevitable but, not linking to any other domains? Shame on them. I don't think Live Search will ever be a Google.
    It took me some time to switch from Ask Jeeve's to Google but, when I did, I never went back.
  • What this shows to me

    First, nice job doing a side by side comparison.

    Second, this shows the strengths of these 2 you sampled. Both will get you there, and I share your preference for Google based on the results I have had personally using both to search the web. It seems to me that the search engines can only take you so far. And one day, a new product may emerge that is better than what is currently available. Nothing lasts forever, as those who remember DEC, IBM hardware, Alta Vista, Compaq and many others who at one point in their existence were market leaders in their respective spaces.

    Third, search is not the end all and be all that all the marketing folk get their panties in a twist over. It will be interesting to see what happens when that bubble bursts. Search is a tool that is very useful in limited situations. Nothing more.
    • RE: What this shows to me

      I disagree with that last point. Search really *is* the end all and be all. It's what binds research together in completely diverse fields. It's essentially the "galactic encyclopedia" we always wanted (less the "Don't Panic" slogan on the original). It's bigger than man landing on the moon.

  • RE: The search engine conundrum

    I'd say the answers were pretty much comparable, with a slight edge to Google for better formatting. I ran the same tests on Yahoo! Search (second in total search market share in the US) and got answers generally similar to MSN's.

    I thought the Canterbury question was a crock, though. You liked the answer better because you happened to be looking for a geographic answer, but many people would be looking for something else entirely (like Chaucer information, or a link to the clothing company).
  • After a web site is written where does it go?

    If I'm a Google subscriber I upload it to Google and it appears in no other search engine?My organization's site resides in a Google computer someplace on Earth?Your site is uploaded to the Government memory bank.
  • Yahoo Search Wins!

    How did microsoft get in this? They're not even a player. And Yahoo search has been better than Google for ages.
  • RE: The search engine conundrum

    Google still sucks and should not be trusted with anything.
    • 'Google still sucks and should not be trusted with anything.'

      Now this is what I call a convincing - nay, incontrovertible - argument ! Way to go, [b]bigjim01[/b] ! Do you have more [i]ex cathedra[/i] pronouncements of this type to vouchsafe us ?...

  • RE: The search engine conundrum

    You are absolutely right. Inspite of advantage with Live search, people prefer Google search.
  • There isn't much difference

    Ten years ago, I used both Yahoo and AltVista, and I still couldn't get what I wanted. Now I put the big three together. I don't see much difference. 99% of times, I can get what I want with any one. I use much of time. There are two kind of people who use Google. A couple years ago, people find Yahoo home page is too big, on a dialup line, it is a problem. Now the problem is gone. Who is still using dialup. Live search has improve dramatically over the past two years. Another group people are Microsoft hater. Most of them are Unix people, who hates Microsoft to death, because Microsoft destroyed their pride in Unix. I consider those people stupid.
  • RE: The search engine conundrum

    Who cares about other features. When it comes to actual Internet searches Google simply has no competition. Google was and is #1.
    • RE: The search engine conundrum

      Well... it is. Yahoo! is the worlds most visited website, and has the most page views.

      I compared "" with "" (the subdomain because this is the search part; had I used "" then it would pick up the Yahoo! portal and not necessarily the search). You can find the results here:

      Yahoo was and is #1 - whether we like it or not.