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Gallery: Top 10 alternatives to Google Search

Remember AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, Excite or Lycos? They were some of the top search engines in the 90s. Now, some of the top contenders sport names like Cuil, Hunch, and Mahalo.
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1 of 22 Andy Smith/ZDNet
Remember AltaVista, AskJeeves, Excite or Lycos? They were some of the big names in search before Google became so firmly entrenched as most people's search engine of choice that it's entered common parlance as a verb.

But it's not the only game in town: newcomers are pushing alternative models promising to tame the internet using crowd sourcing and "computational knowledge engines."

So is it time to give the big G the heave-ho? Here's silicon.com's round-up of the best of alternative search engines out there, starting with Twitter Search. Twitter Search
When Google is just too slow, why not tap into the fast moving wisdom of the Tweet cloud?

The Twuniverse proved its worth as a primary news source earlier this year, when Twitpic threw up the first pictures of the US Airways jet that crashed into the Hudson River in New York.

Biz Stone and the other creators of Twitter have tapped into the potential use of the site as a search engine able to deliver information almost instantaneously, adding a trending topics panel to Twitter's front page. As a result, Twitterers can now discover which stories have momentum building around them in real-time.

Refinements like TwitterWhere add the ability to search for tweets in a specific area, allowing you to home in on trends and breaking news in a particular geography.

Captions: Nick Heath silicon.com. Andy Smith ZDNet also contributed to this gallery.

Screenshot: Twitter

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Click on any image to enlarge. To compare the search engines, we've selected a current topic with lots of possibilities - Iran. Breaking news is where Twitter shows its best (speed and opportunity for anyone to post) and its worst (rumors and lies).

Screenshot: Twitter

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Rather than returning a page full of the "infamous 10 blue links", Kosmix presents a web page that mimics that layout of a magazine article, offering facts, pictures, videos and comments on your chosen subject.

Kosmix taps into a raft of web 2.0 content, sucking in feeds from Wikipedia, Flickr and YouTube as well as blog and forum postings. It's definitely an interesting choice if searching for a topic rather than a particular website.

Screenshot: Kosmix

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Click on any image to enlarge. Iran is probably a nice place to visit if there weren't massive street demonstrations and violence going on now.

Screenshot: Kosmix

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The prettiest of the bunch is Cooliris, which is a plug-in search engine designed for finding images and video.

Cooliris delivers results from popular photosharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa, video portals such as YouTube and Blinkx and online TV sites such as Hulu. It can even search for products on sites such as Amazon.

Scrolling through results is simply a case of flicking the 3D photo wall with the mouse, in a similar manner to the Cover Flow system used by Apple's iPhone.

Screenshot: Cooliris

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Cooliris for the iPhone can be found at Apple's App Store.

Screenshot: Cooliris

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When it comes to searching for sites, Microsoft's Bing offers a list of URLs that looks pretty similar to Google, as well as image, video, shopping and map search options.

However, Microsoft's latest Google killer also promises several features that Redmond would like you to believe will trump the search incumbent.

For certain types of searches, such as for products or hotels, it will display additional information in the results page, including user reviews and pricing.

Users can also refine results into categories and view video thumbnail previews.

Early signs are promising, with Bing pulling in 16 per cent of the global search market, putting it ahead of Yahoo!'s 10 per cent, according to internet monitoring company StatCounter.

Screenshot: Bing

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Bing links to up-to-date news coverage.

Screenshot: Bing

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Billed as a "computational knowledge engine" Wolfram Alpha is no simple site searcher.

Instead, it's designed to provide facts and figures, on anything from a country's gross domestic product to the frequencies of Christian names throughout history.

It processes more than 10 trillion pieces of data, producing results in the forms of data tables, definitions and graphs of comparative figures.

In its current form it is strong on answering scientific queries, providing numerical data and solving mathematical problems. It falls down however when asked for simpler everyday queries such as 'where's my nearest Chinese restaurant' or 'what's the best fertilizer for roses'.

Future plans for the engine include expanding its knowledge base to a wider range of everyday popular and cultural knowledge.

Screenshot: Wolfram Alpha

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Wolfram Alpha provides an statistical overview of the country.

Screenshot: Wolfram Alpha

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Not a search engine per se but Hyperwords a plug-in for the Firefox and Flock browsers that effectively turns any word on a web page into a ready-to-use search term.

Simply highlight and right-click on a word to search a range of online stores, check the meaning of the word, find its location on a map, translate it into tens of different languages or even immediately post the highlighted text to your Twitter account or blog.

The embedded search engine runs queries against a range of popular sites such as Wikipedia, Amazon, eBay, Facebook and of course Google.

Screenshot: Hyperwords

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No results for Iran, so we tried "Father's Day."

Screenshot: Hyperwords

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Click on any image to enlarge. The self styled "human-powered" search relies on individuals using their grey matter to organize results and information, rather than the mathematical algorithms most search engines use.

The brainchild of self-styled web entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, Mahalo uses a team of editors to build pages of information around popular search terms such as the BBC.

Such pages offer a slew of well-organized and interesting content including encyclopaedia entries, videos, news stories, photos and facts.

For less mainstream content, no dedicated pages exist and instead Mahalo pulls in a mixture of URLs, pictures, comment entries and video, from a range of different sites including Flickr, YouTube and Twitter.

Screenshot: Mahalo

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We get some fast facts for the Iran search.

Screenshot: Mahalo

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Built by ex-Google engineers, Cuil says it not only searches more web pages than other engines but also returns more relevant results. It claims to do this by ranking search results based on a site's content and relevance to the search term, rather than just its popularity.

Results are broken down into categories at the side of the page and also feature short summaries and pictures.

Cuil isn't likely to have Google worried any time soon though: a search for silicon.com produces our site as the second result on the page, amid a lot of sites on the microprocessor ingredient and Silicon Valley.

Screenshots: Cuil

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This Cuil search brings up some general related topics that provide a variety of information: news coverage, encylopedia-type facts, or sports news.

Screenshot: Cuil

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When you can't make up your mind about whether to ask for a raise or to buy your wife flowers then why not let Hunch do it for you?

Basically a tailored form of crowd sourcing, Hunch trains its search algorithms to answer future queries using users' responses to a series of multiple choice questions - helping it learn that people who are vegetarian will never choose a steak restaurant when dining out, for instance.

Unfortunately more training seems to be in order, as its recommendation for the best bunch of flowers for a loved one was a bouquet of scarlet pimpernels, commonly regarded as a weed.

But it's early days - the site was launched yesterday - and the machine learning tech should ensure it improves given more time and more users' answers.

Screenshot: Hunch

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Search for Iran.

Screenshot: Hunch

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Since it's new we'll try another Hunch - Father's Day.

Screenshot: Hunch

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This only took four questions. The wild card is pretty interesting.

Screenshot: Hunch

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Omgili is the engine of choice for vanity searching or mining web communities for information: Omgili scours millions of debates on forums and discussion boards for mentions of a search term, be it a topic or person.

The engine even allows users to stream mentions of a search term as they happen in a real-time window, similar to updates on Twitter.

Omgili recommends using the site to find consumer opinions or to find answers to technical problems.

Screenshot: Omgili

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An Omigli search brings up personal comments about the subject.

Screenshot: Omigli

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