Hey, try an online spy to cut down the time you spend on searches

By John McCormick

Every search engine uses different syntax for phrasing requests. It can be a real time-waster when you use more than one search site.

Enter Mata Hari'no dancing, please. This utility is similar in concept to the Structured Query Language for database searches. From Visual Metrics Corp. of Vermillion, S.D., Mata Hari isn't simple to master, but once you learn its search syntax, it will generate a correct search string for many search engines.

You can get Mata Hari 1.11 on the Web at www.thewebtools.com/. A 1.6M downloadable version is free for a 15-day trial, and serious Web researchers should get it.

I found this and other interesting Web tools at www.searchenginewatch.com/resources/utilities.html.

Alexa, at www.alexa.com/, takes a different tack. It works with your search engine and suggests further searches. Alexa's floating toolbar, which appears over your search engine, tells exactly where you are on the Web. It reveals facts such as who owns the site and how actively it is visited.

Catch a wave

The suggestion window shows where other surfers have gone after viewing the current page. I find this a useful predictor of other sites I might want to visit. The free, 1.7M Alexa download is a great tool for serious researchers.

BullsEye Pro from IntelliSeek Inc. of Cincinnati [GCN, June 14, Page 35] is an advanced metasearch engine that leverages multiple sites. I like how it ranks or filters the results'an important work-saver in metasearches that generate thousands of hits.

Novices, however, should probably skip BullsEye despite its basic features such as spell-checking queries and listing related words or homonyms. The 8M utility is best for intermediate to advanced users who will not be confused by its complexity.

Web beginners do better with Copernic, a powerful but much easier metasearch utility at www.copernic.com/. The free version I recommend for novices can search Web pages, newsgroups and e-mail. The more powerful $30 Plus version is good, but if you truly need more, move up to BullsEye and watch for upgrades to Plus.

The $27 WebFerret is even easier; there's no free trial version. Check it out at www.ferretsoft.com/. My only objection is that, unlike other metasearch engines that let you download page hits for offline browsing at your leisure, WebFerret is strictly a search tool.

If you don't want to download metasearch utilities or your office doesn't permit downloads, try a metacrawler online search engine such as InferenceFind, at www.infind.com/. It not only searches for keywords but also catalogs them according to site type.

For example, searching on 'Thurman' brought links divided into four groups, dedicated to Rep. Karen Thurman (D-Fla.), actress Uma Thurman and so on. You can see how useful such a ranking would be, and that alone puts InferenceFind on my browser bookmark list.

Also try five basic metacrawler sites:

  • PureSearch, at www.puresearch.com/, divides search locations into meta, general, specialty and reference.

  • Proteus, at www.thrall.org/proteus.html, reruns a search at different sites.

  • ProFusion, at profusion.ittc.ukans.edu/, and sponsored by the University of Kansas, is useful for detecting broken links.

  • OneSeek, at www.oneseek.com/, displays results from multiple engines side by side.

  • Dogpile, at www.dogpile.com/, has a user-friendly interface. Enter a search term and click on Fetch. Dogpile pulls in search results from several engines and lets you search eight or nine more with a single click.

A different kind of search tool, Filez, at www.filez.com, searches only for files. Instead of perusing pages for text, it seeks your query terms in its descriptions of 75 million online files.

You can limit searches to specific operating systems, music files, graphics and about 30 other categories.

Filez does no filtering or virus-checking. It doesn't host the files; it merely hunts for them and gives brief descriptions along with links to the File Transfer Protocol sites for downloading.

If what you want isn't text but rather a lead to something downloadable, Filez can save a lot of time.

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at poweruser@mail.usa.com.

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