August 2007 InfoTip: Factbites
I am on an ongoing mission to find a search engine that is calibrated for searchers rather than for surfers. I don’t want to find the hottest web site about Britney Spears; I want information on best practices for call centers, or background on the California mortgage industry. Most search engines are geared toward casual searchers, and base much of their relevance ranking on the relative popularity of web sites. That’s great if you want the latest buzz on Britney; not so great when you want quality sites on a work-related topic.
I recently came across Factbites, launched in 2005 and still officially in beta. Factbites has been developed by Rapid Intelligence, a tech company based in Sydney, Australia. They immediately have credibility to me, since they also are behind NationMaster, one of my favorite data-mining tools, and Qwika, a wiki search engine.
Yes, it’s yet another search engine, but it’s worth checking out. One of the first things you will notice is that, instead of 25- or 30-word snippets from each web site with the key words in context, you see entire sentences – up to three full sentences from a web page. You will also see suggestions of alternative words and phrases, to help you focus your search. Their claim to fame is that they use linguistic analysis and data mining to determine the content of web sites, calculate relevance, and determine the most in-depth sites for your search. The goal is to deliver small bites of facts in the search results, rather than snippets from a bazillion search pages.
Yes, it has a few limitations, the most noticeable of which is that it doesn’t handle advanced searches gracefully. Phrase searches don’t work, and obscure topics retrieve no results. And you’ll get no more than about 30 results total. Of course, most people don’t go past the first page of 10 search results, but good searchers do, and it’s annoying to get such limited results.
On the other hand, the sites that Factbites retrieves are generally in-depth and authoritative. A search for livestock feed returned results from a seed study at the University of California, Davis; a research paper from Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore; and a livestock feed requirements study from Statistics Canada.
Factbites isn’t going to replace Google, but it provides a useful filter on search results that may help you find in-depth answers quickly.
Related: Link to to a list of search engines