Commentary: I've got Web search rage

Looks like online users are looking for love--and everything else--in all the wrong places. A new study shows nearly three quarters of U.S. Internet users expressed a significant amount of rage while doing Web searches.

When will it end? First there was road rage (best bumper sticker: "If you don't like the way I drive, get off the sidewalk"). Then air rage (in an extreme case last year, Jonathan Burton, said to have been miffed at rude treatment by Southwest Airlines flight attendants, went postal and was killed by raging fellow passengers). Then a bunch of goofy ones like pavement rage (Londoners frustrated by dawdling walkers) and pathetic ones like power rage (shivering PG&E customers paying bloated utility bills by candlelight). Seems like everyone these days is mad as hell about something and isn't going to take it anymore.

COMMENTARY--And if nothing like that gets your personal sap rising, how about the way our government handles technology? Like the billions flushed down the drain on a failed attempt to upgrade our nation's air traffic computer system. Or the recent U.S. Customs grand theft auto fiasco.

Get this: The U.S. Customs Service installed pricey license plate scanners at 11 of 31 Southwest border crossings. One goal was to check each license against a giant FBI database and instantly ring alarms when a stolen car drove through a border station. This time the technology worked—the alarms went off 2,000 times last year. So how many scumbag car thieves did they nab? None.

Why? Customs officials don't chase stolen cars heading south of the border. So they just shrug as the alarms shriek. But customs officials have a solution. A new financing bill will spend another $150 million on this problem. And what are they going to do with this windfall? Buy more plate scanners. Gack. You couldn't invent a story like this.

Well, here we go again. The mad flavor of the month is search rage, reported by search guru Danny Sullivan. According to a Roper Starch Worldwide study for Web Top.com, nearly three quarters of U.S. Internet users expressed a significant amount of frustration while doing Web searches. This turned to genuine rage if the search took more than 12 minutes.

So what were all these unhappy users trying to find? Services like Search Voyeur, Peek Through the Keyhole, MetaSpy, Snoop, and Search Spy show you what surfers are all currently hankering for, which seems to be a lurid combination of sex, MP3s, Pokémon, and sex.

You can find a list of these spy sites at Sullivan's terrific Search Engine Watch. Sullivan also includes two eye-opening collections—the hilarious and raunchy Disturbing Search Requests (searchrequests.weblogs.com) highlights bizarre hunts from climbing into clothes dryers to cat dental floss to huge hairy . . . well, you get the idea. And Mopilot.com Livesearch (mopilot.com/index.htm?go=live.php3) reveals the top queries made by WAP phone users, which are almost exclusively X-rated. Oh, the humanity.

It's hard enough finding anything online, and most people simply rely on familiar search sites like Yahoo (the most popular) or Google (the best). But if you want news, graphics, MP3 files, chat topics, or extremely vertical business-oriented sites, or if you have a WAP phone with a tiny screen, you need a specialty search engine. Sullivan's site links to dozens of these; the other excellent search engine site, Searchengineguide.com, lists a frightening 3,665 search engines and directories.

Roughly 80 percent of us use search engines to navigate the Web. And people who run Web sites need help to have search engines steer users to their doors. Sullivan's site is tops at providing assistance for both. If you're looking for critical information on how to use the Web more effectively, your search is over.

Paul Somerson is a contributing editor at Ziff Davis Smart Business. E-mail him at sbmail@ziffdavis.com.