Review: Specialized search engines fit the niche

For when the Google net spreads too wide

General purpose search engines such as Google or Ask.com are great for, well, general purpose queries. That said, there are times when you're looking for a specific kind of information and much of what a general purpose search engine is going to uncover won't be relevant to your needs. Enter the specialized search engine.

I looked at several specialized search engines, attempting to create a cross-section of what's available. For closer examination, I chose BiggerBoat, an entertainment search tool of interest to almost anyone; Krugle, a technical search tool for all kinds of programmers and Web developers; and GlobalSpec, a highly targeted B2B search tool for engineers.

BiggerBoat: Shopping for music and movies

BiggerBoat's niche is entertainment shopping. For now it offers two search tabs: Music and Movies. Eventually it plans to roll out tabs for television, video games and more.

To start, let's look at BiggerBoat's music search. First of all, this isn't a music file search engine. You won't get long lists of places to download MP3 files. This is about music products (generally that means albums or CD singles) for sale. You can search by artist, song name, producer, engineer, style -- just about any quantifiable characteristic of the music except, for some reason, record label.

Each search result indicates why that result was matched, so you can tell at a glance what context the results are from -- if you searched for a music producer who also has released an album as a vocalist, for example.

The results page packs in a lot of information. Each result entry features the following: an image of the album cover (if available), album and artist name, notes (e.g. "w/lyrics") and publication year, a rating from AllMusic.com, a list of available formats, matching songs (if applicable) and finally a widget that indicates who has it for sale and for how much, with the cheapest vendor being displayed and the rest available via a roll-over pop-up AJAXy window. You can filter results in many ways: by artist name, guest artist, album style, label, etc. By default, results are listed in reverse chronological order, but that too can be changed.

An AJAX widget pops open to display prices and sources for the current item on BiggerBoat.
 
An AJAX widget pops open to display prices and sources for the current item on BiggerBoat. (Click image to see larger view.)

Click on a result, and you'll get even more information. This is where you can find everyone who worked on the song or album (guest artists, producers, engineers, etc.) as well as the styles it's tagged with (i.e. "indie rock"). There's a Product Versions section that once again makes buying the music easy. It lists format, seller, availability and price, with a tempting "Get it" button to take you right to the source.

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