Since people seem to have like my article last week, A Dozen Sweet Things You Never Knew Google Could Do — I thought I might make a habit of posting about nifty things I found that I thought people would enjoy. We’ll see — either way, this is worth checking out: six unusual search engines that won’t ever tell you what Google will tell you, but could tell you a whole lot more.
I referenced this engine in the article above, because for a long time, I used it to do all of my conversions, like feet into meters or yen into lira. Google has since taken that functionality over, but I still use W|A from time to time. It’s not a search engine — neither is it, as it claims, a “knowledge engine.” I think of it more as a “statistics engine”. Wolfram|Alpha can tell you, for example, how many gallons of water are in the Indian Ocean — and it will then proceed to tell you things like how long each side would be if you packed all of that water into a perfect cube. Type in “Dubai”, and it’ll tell you how many people live there, what the current time, temperature, and humidity are, and even any notable people who were born there (none at the moment.) It’s a far cry from what you’re expecting, but if you’re in school or just a stats junkie, it’s something you’ll never want to forget.
The Directory of Open Access Journals
The DOAJ is a great tool for anyone doing scientific research. Have you ever been looking up something for someone and run into that whole “Pay $35 for access to this paper” crap? The Directory of Open Access Journals is a search engine that looks through dozens of scientific journals from around the world that let you view articles without paying. It’s a great resource for researchers of all stripes.
I probably don’t use Inkmesh like it was intended to be used. I consider Inkmesh to be more of a “knowledge engine” than Wolfram|Alpha. What Inkmesh is supposed to do is give you a way to get comparison prices on eBooks. You type in something, you click either “Find eBooks” or “Find free eBooks”, and you get results from all over. This was originally intended to keep you from overpaying for your copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’ve found that it makes an amazing resource for the basics of just about any endeavor. You can type “jewelry making”, and get free eBooks about how to make jewelry. You can type in “app” and find free gems like “Opportunities in the App Economy”. Now, granted, there’s no guarantee of accuracy or even scam-free results, but hey — if you want someone to give you free information on a subject you’d usually have to pay for, Inkmesh is a great way to start.
This is probably one of the most interesting ideas I’ve seen in search engines. It’s basically like Bing! or Yahoo, except that Million Short deliberately cuts off the first 1,000-1,000,000 results off of the top, essentially guaranteeing that you get results from the more obscure depths of the web. It’s not a great way to get at any one piece of obscure information, but it’s a great way to make sure that you get something you wouldn’t ever see anywhere else.
Topsy is the ‘Social media search engine’, and it does its job…decently. The real draw here is that Topsy is the ‘Twitter search engine’ — it has basically zero interaction with Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, or any non-Twitter social site. But if what you want is an instant snapshot of general opinion and chatter level on any given subject, Topsy can give it to you. You don’t get any real analytics until you sign up for Topsy Pro, but unless you’re a hardcore social statistician, the basic information you get on the basic page is perfectly adequate.
Flackr is still in beta — and it’s been in beta for a long time. But it’s a unique little service insofar as it gives you a constantly-updated dashboard featuring the latest news article headlines from around the web. If you need articles to quote on a subject, Flackr is pretty good for it. The only real flaw with it is that there appears to be no way to get a date range on the results — so if you Google “government shutdown” right now (with one staring us right in the face), you’ll get more results from 2011’s proposed shutdown then you will for the recent one.
With resources like this at your disposal, you should be able to find almost any information you need on any subject that comes to mind — and almost none of it would come up on your favorite search engine. Happy hunting!