A few weeks ago, I attended a panel discussion about climate change where former Vice President Al Gore referred to the United States as an oil "junkie." At the time, it occurred to me that Americans have another addiction, albeit less pernicious: searching with Google. Surely as we use our cars to get around, we use Google to launch our Web queries. As of March, Mountain View owns 72% of the searches made online. We're Google junkies.
Who cares, right? Google works well enough, and it's added a lot of cool stuff over the years--SearchWiki, for example, is one of the coolest additions to hit search since PageRank. But like the lowly combustion engine, Google's search engine is meant for all-around people-pleasing, and it fails gloriously at more serious searches. The problem with its ubiquity is that it obscures tools that work better in specific scenarios; we can't even remember the names of other services because they're so damn tiny by comparison.
Back to my reductive car metaphor: we know that sedans are good for most stuff, but when it's time to move to a new house, we borrow a big truck. When we go camping, we rent a camper. When we want to cruise the strip and look sexy, we buy a sweet-ass 1989 Dodge conversion van with red velvet seating. But no matter what specific search task most of us undertake online, we always stupidly head to Google, our all-purpose search sedan.
I've written about other options before, but none of them are much help in the weaning process because they're each only useful for specific things. There's ChaCha, which is awesome for mobile searching, or when you have a weird question that will take lots of re-searches ("When did Yugoslavia change its name to Montenegro?"). There's DuckDuckGo, which is super-simple, fast, safe and clean. There's NewsSift, the Financial Times' engine for queries about companies or business, there's Bing for killer image searching, and there's Wolfram Alpha for data-driven or mathematical queries. But there's no good replacement sedan for Google. For most of our searches, it still works fine, so we stay in our G-bubble, complacent.
But as of this month, there is finally another option. Check out Worio, a search engine that can finally take the place of Google as your all-purpose buggy. Worio does what Google does--keyword searching--about as well as the search giant, but it adds another fabulous layer of results, too: Worio is a "discovery" engine that uses your past search history and a matrix of keywords to help you discover things you'd never otherwise find on Google. So why do you need this?
Think about the last time you were stifled by a Google search: you probably didn't know what you were searching for. And if you don't know what to search for, you can't punch in a good keyword to drive the query.
Here's an example. I want to find a bike that can shift gears standing still: a bike with a transmission. I have no idea who makes these things, or how they work, or where to get one. So I Google "internally geared bicycle." The results are okay: I can learn more, but I'll probably have to do two or three deeper searches, because I can't automatically skim the page for the words or phrases I want. I have a discovery problem: I'm not sure what I want exists, or even exactly what it is.
Then I search with Worio. On the right side of the page, I get a "discovery" box that acts a little like Apple's Genius feature, except for search results, not music. The results on the left are basically the same as Google's (in fact, you can even search Google, Yahoo or Bing inside Worio, if you'd like.) But there, on the right side, in the discovery box is something called a "NuVinci gear hub." Cool.
One search, one click, and I get this:
Way more useful. And the more I use Worio, the better it gets to know my search and click-through habits, and the more accurate my results get (in theory.) If you look at the upper-right of my search results pictured above, you'll see you can rate your result, which helps Worio learn even further, or you can save the page. And since you can login to the site with Facebook, it can use your profile as a jumping off point to build its knowledge about what you'd like to discover. You can turn this feature off, if it freaks you out, but so far, it's tossed me some interesting stuff in that discovery box.
When you find pages you like, Worio allows you to skip bookmarking entirely. Bookmarking, in many ways, is a terribly vestigial practice: you have a compendium of pages you like, but as with owning a shelf full of books, you can't search them all at once. Worio lets you accrete a "library" of saved pages that you can query all at once, making at long last the bookmarks folder a real source of research power. You can also sync your Library with Delicious, and access it from anywhere. (The only downside to Worio: no image searching built-in.)
If you have Firefox, you can add Worio search to the upper-right hand search box, where many of us search from. Give it a shot. An all-purpose sedan is still a sedan, by any measure. But that doesn't mean you aren't due for an upgrade. And once you're out of your Google cocoon, who knows: you may be more inclined to try Wolfram Alpha for your next math problem, or Bing for your next image search, or NewsSift for your next business question. Being clean of Google, you'll find, has its perks.
You can learn more about Worio by reading the site's FAQ, found here.
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