Life beyond Google: Do alternative search engines measure up?

These sites employ some interesting tactics in their efforts to take away some of Google's pie

Q: What's the quickest way to find the molecular structure of gold?

A: Just Google it.

When the name of a product becomes a verb in the common vernacular, you know the owners have a hit on their hands. Just ask Xerox or the makers of Scotch Tape, right? In the case of Google, though, is it always the best place to start searching?

We know there are alternatives out there: Yahoo, Ask.com, MSN. In so many ways, however, these alternatives feel about the same. Sure, the results will vary slightly, but the search experience really isn't markedly different.

But there are products out there that do offer a very different search experience. I Googled ... ahem, I scoured the Web to find a handful of search engines that really do have a different feel to them.

Mahalo -- They're here to help.

Mahalo attempts a seemingly insurmountable task: human-powered search results. To accomplish this, Mahalo (the name means "thank you" in Hawaiian) employs "Guides" to handcraft results for the most popular search terms. The site is in alpha now and has about 4,000 terms prepared but hopes to get to 10,000 by the end of the year, when it'll go into beta. If you search on a term that Mahalo hasn't created a results page for, you'll get standard Google results.

When you do get a Mahalo page, it's a very nice experience. The results are categorized into "Top 7" links and "Recent News" (for all results), and then relevant categories such as "Background and Profiles" for people or "Information and Reviews" for a product. You might find an embedded YouTube video on the page. In the sidebar is a "Fast Facts" section, "Guide Notes" and a "Top Submitted Links" section, which brings us to the next point.

The results page for
 
The results page for "iphone" at Mahalo. (Click image to see larger view.)

Even the most diligent Guide may miss something, and Mahalo lets you suggest links that should be included. These will be reviewed by a Guide for possible inclusion in the main page, or for listing in the Top Submitted Links section (Mahalo estimates that 60% to 70% of its links come from Guides, and the rest are user-submitted). Some suggestions will be refused, and by clicking through to the Submitted Links page, you can see what has been rejected and why. It's a nice "full disclosure" touch.

Mahalo keeps a list of link submissions it has opted not to include.
 
Mahalo keeps a list of link submissions it has opted not to include. (Click image to see larger view.)

Mahalo is an excellent alternative to Google if your search is pretty simple -- searching for a person, place or thing, basically. If you're looking for an explanation of the molecular structure of gold, Mahalo isn't going to be of much help. If you want to know what foolishness Paris Hilton has been up to, or the lowdown on Apple's iPhone, then Mahalo is a great place to start.

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