In the rarefied world of online search, Google remains the engine of choice.
At least that's what we found in an unscientific test that pit Google's powers against the tools of Teoma, an upstart claiming that it has developed a better way to explore unfamiliar turf on the Web.
Seven widely divergent questions were posed to Google, Teoma and two other highly touted search engines, Alltheweb and Wisenut, as well as AltaVista, a pioneer that lost its way a few years ago during the dot-com boom.
In all cases, I used the most elementary of search techniques, entering the same keywords from each question into each engine.
Though all the engines fared reasonably well on most questions, none approached Google's processing speed or ability to provide relevant links to the answers. What's more, Google was the only engine to guide us in each case to the requested information on its first page of results.
These two questions stymied all the other engines:
"What Pulitzer Prizes did the New Orleans Times-Picayune win and in what year?" and "What is the name of the song featured in the Mitsubishi commercials with the lyrics 'I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger'?"
It took 0.24 second for Google to provide me with a link to a page on the Times-Picayune's Web site, where I learned the New Orleans paper won two Pulitzers, both in 1997--one for public service and another for editorial cartooning.
Google took even less time--0.19 second by its own clock--to answer the question about the Mitsubishi song, even though I initially misspelled Mitsubishi.
In a nice demonstration of Google's intuitive powers, the search engine still figured out what I really meant and provided a link to an online discussion board, where I learned that the Mitsubishi ad used a 1973 song called "Ooh La La," written by Ron Wood and Ronnie Lane and sung by Rod Stewart.
Google's performance seemed even more impressive after seeing how the question about the Times-Picayune fooled the other engines.
Both Teoma and AltaVista provided a high ranking to an MSN Money page that informed me its managing editor used to work at the New Orleans paper and several of its staffers had won Pulitzer Prizes during the 1980s and 1990s.
Alltheweb pointed me to a Web page featuring a schedule for last month's Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Library Festival.
Google's database, the largest of those tested, appears to give it a major advantage over its rivals. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company says it draws on an index of 3 billion documents.
Teoma's owner, Ask Jeeves Inc., insists Google's index is littered with junk links. Teoma believes it does a better job of filtering useless links, one of the reasons its index consists of just 200 million pages. Teoma says it will be expanding its database.
This is not to suggest the other engines are clueless. They all provide useful road maps for getting around online.
Teoma looks especially promising as it continues to develop a format it unveiled along with souped-up search tools this month. An easy-to-use "refine" button helps focus search requests.
Teoma's resources category also is a handy way to find more experts on topics. Despite the intrigue of Teoma's extra bells and whistles, Google remains my first stop for online directions.
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The Search for Some Answers
Here's a sampling of the questions the Associated Press asked to see how online search engine Google stacks up against its competitors.
1. Canada has had only one female prime minister. Who is she?
2. Which were the most frequently banned books of 2001?
3. What is a "roofie" and why is it known as the "date rape drug"?
4. What is hypospadias?
5. Which Pulitzer Prizes did the New Orleans Times-Picayune win, and in what year?
1. Kim Campbell, sworn in as Canada's prime minister in June 1993. She was out of office before the year was over.
2. According to the American Library Assn., the three most challenged books of 2001 were the "Harry Potter" series by J.K. Rowling, "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck and Robert Cormier's "The Chocolate War."
3. "Roofie" stands for Rohypnol, a pill that leaves people open to suggestion and physically weak. It also causes memory loss. The pill's lack of taste and odor has led some men to drop it in the drinks of unwitting women, who later have reported being raped.
4. A condition in which the opening of the penis isn't found in its normal spot. The opening may occur anywhere along the underside of the penis.
5. The New Orleans Times-Picayune won both of its Pulitzers in 1997. The paper won the Public Service award for a series called "Oceans of Trouble" and another for editorial cartooning.