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AOL: Tomorrow’s Google Free Friday Alternative
Tomorrow is the first of the Google Free Fridays that Search Engine Land is
promoting in July. As our previous
This July: Try
Google-Free Fridays! post explains, the point is to encourage people to open
their eyes to some of the other major search engines, whether it to be to
discover something great and new or to reassure yourself that Google’s the right
choice. Tomorrow’s choice: AOL. Rather than
search with Google (or Yahoo, Microsoft or Ask for that matter), try out an AOL
search service. It offers a variety of them. To get you started, there’s a
rundown on some of what AOL offers in terms of search below. Want more
background? See my newly posted History Of AOL Search page.
I’ve done some light comparison to Google to provide a bit more background,
but don’t read this as a super-strong blow-by-blow of strengths and weaknesses
between the two. It’s really mean more for background. Instead, tomorrow is your
chance to get a feel of how AOL compares by using a search service there that
corresponds to one you might regularly use at Google.
Just use the search box from the AOL home page or from
AOL Search, the dedicated AOL search area.
That lets you search the entire web and get results back that are powered by
Google. So AOL = Google, right?
Well, not quite. Traditionally, when someone was getting search results from
a provider, they might not get to hit the entire database. Unfortunately,
there’s no easy way to test this at AOL. For example, I should be able to search
for site:searchengineland.com and see if AOL has as many pages as Google reports
for Search Engine Land. AOL
has over 3,500 pages, while AOL lists only 10. I know AOL has more than
that, however, because I can find individual pages it doesn’t list showing up
here). So there’s a bug. If I try for someone else (Amazon),
the next problem is that AOL doesn’t report counts. So AOL might have the same
number of pages as Google — or might not.
Still, it probably has lots — enough to make it well worth considering for a
web search. The next key thing is that AOL can control the ranking algorithm to
some degree. Consider a search for cars at
AOL. At AOL, Wikipedia makes it into number 10 while at Google, it’s knocked
out by a UK site. That’s because I’m in the UK, so Google decides it will take
matters into its own hands and shove some UK results down my throat, even if I
didn’t ask for them. Often, that might improve results. But not always — and
it’s just one of the ways that AOL and Google might be subtly different.
Finally, go back to that search for cars, and you’ll notice that AOL has a
little module or area at the top of the results with drop-down boxes. These let
you do a search against its AOL Cars area. Google doesn’t provide these (though
on other searches, Google has similar functionality).
AOL also has modules that show up for a range of searches designed to provide
direct answers and information. Search for
ipod, and you’ll see shopping results called out at the top. Search for
starbucks newport beach, and you get a map with locations of Starbucks in
This page explains
more about these modules. Until recently, these were called FullView and much
more noticeable. They debuted with great fanfare last October, then were
AOL in January on its search blog and last got a
mention at the end of March. Now they’ve gone, with a
in May talking about the new-style modules but not saying a word about FullView.
That’s too bad — FullView was similar to the
Ask3D interface that
has gained praise. The existing modules are similar to
Google Universal Search
units that appear, but without that catchy name (and a sense that these units
will continue to be supported), AOL loses a distinguishing feature.
Use the Image link above the AOL search box to look for images or go to
this page with it already
selected. AOL’s image search is powered by Google, but as with web search, you
might find slight differences because the exact same image database might not be
hit and there might be ranking differences. Still, AOL will be pretty similar to
Now we finally get to where AOL is radically different than Google. Google
Video is morphing into
meta video search engine, where it looks beyond the confines of Google Video and
YouTube. AOL Video Search uses
Truveo service to crawl the web for
matches, plus AOL has a variety of partners feeding it content. In a search for
AOL, I liked how there was plenty of news content coming up covering fireworks
from the recent 4th Of July celebrations. I also liked the big tabs that made it
easy to toggle from "Best Match" to "Most Viewed" or "Highest Rated" and "Most
Recent." Sure, Google Video has these ranking choices as well (Relevance,
Rating, Popularity & Date), but the tabs provide easier and more noticeable
access that the Google Video drop-down box. The range of video content on AOL
also seemed for this particular search much broader. Aside from search, AOL also
offers an extensive AOL Video area, and you
can learn more about both from these help pages (Overview;
AOL Video Search — ignore the mentions of the now defunct Singingfish
service; bad on AOL for being behind in not removing these).
its AOL News site, and I was pleased to
discover that I’m apparently not alone with the
Xbox flashing three lights
problem, since a
story about that was front and center on the home page. So how about more? A
search on Xbox is disappointing. AOL
gives me mostly AP stories while Google
gives me a
range from a variety of sources. I do like at AOL how you can narrow to
Business, Sports and Entertainment news. But that’s mainly because of the fewer
sources being checked (the help page names a few of them
Again, differences from Google. At AOL Local,
Maps come from AOL’s own Mapquest service, and like Google, you can get a
satellite view or a blended "hybrid view" if you want it.
I’ve covered the main searches that AOL itself features, but it also provides
many others. Here are just some of them:
- AOL Audio Search:
Not just podcasts, AOL says it scans the web for free music as well as sound
clips. Just want podcasts? Use AOL
- AOL Shopping: PriceGrabber,
with AOL’s branding
This page lists some of the other
ones out there.
Happy searching with AOL tomorrow!