eTools.ch: A “Swiss Army” Meta Search Engine
I’m generally not a big fan of meta search technologies—I prefer to go directly to the search service I feel will likely give me the best response for any given query, rather than sifting through the aggregated results from several engines.
But recently, developer Stephan Schmid invited me to kick the tires on his Switzerland-based meta search engine eTools.ch, and after playing around with it a bit I came away impressed.
Enter a query and eTools.ch searches the four major search engines (Ask, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo), several European engines (Seekport, Entireweb and Bluewin) and oddly, AltaVista and Lycos, two all-but-forgotten stars of yore. Results display your query terms highlighted in yellow, a preview link, and the source of the result. Each source is linked, allowing you to quickly re-run the search in any of the ten engines queried. By default, results are multi-lingual, but drop-down boxes let you limit results by country or language.
This is all and well, similar to other meta search engines. Where eTools.ch really shines is in its customization options that you enable through a preferences page.
First and foremost, you can change the weighting of each search engine (boosting it from normal to important or very important) or disable it completely. I’ve never seen such a feature in a meta search engine, as obvious as it seems, and it can make a huge difference in the types of results you see. Alternately, you can also change your preferences so that eTools.ch just queries the fastest search engines.
eTools.ch has several other interesting features that set it apart from other meta search engines. According to Schmid, eTools.ch parses each query and really translates it to each target engine, passing through properly structured Boolean operators, modifiers and phrases (most meta search engines simply send your unadorned search terms). It also removes results with tracking information (especially MSN, Yahoo, AltaVista and Lycos— their results contain random redirect links).
You can also save results in either PDF or RSS format, a handy feature if you’re doing research or want to run a search on an ongoing basis.
eTools.ch also has a mobile version with results presented in a simplified, non-graphical layout
Schmid says that he plans to show clustered results, similar to those presented by Clusty, in the near future.
eTools.ch is a relatively rare find—a meta search engine that actually offers compelling features rather than just aggregating the results found by others.