BOSTON (05/08/2000) - It can be surprising to discover that running the same query on several search engines can yield different results. This is because search engines are sort of like movie reviewers: They all have their own opinions. That's why you may want to use more than one search engine when looking for something.
Of course, it's time-consuming to run your search at multiple places. That's where metasearch engines come in. Also called metacrawlers, metasearch engines route your query to several search engines at the same time, then provide you with a single results list. This gives you a comprehensive review of top listings at major search engines without having to visit them individually.
One of the Web's first metasearch engines was MetaCrawler. It was purchased by Go2Net Inc. (www. go2net.com), which now uses MetaCrawler's technology to power its searches. When you search, Go2Net sends your request to places such as AltaVista, Excite, Google, LookSmart and Lycos. Their answers are blended together into a single page of results, and any sites listed at more than one search engine are bumped to the top of the list.
SavvySearch (www.savvysearch.com), another long-time metasearch engine, was recently purchased by CNET Inc.. It continues to operate on its own and also powers CNET's Search.com site (www.search.com). At either place, you can perform a general metasearch or one of a variety of "specialty" metasearches.
For instance, you could query several MP3 search engines at the same time or check on auction listings from places such as Amazon.com and uBid.
ProFusion (www.profusion.com) lets you control which search engines to query right from its home page. You can also increase the number of results presented and have it check for dead links. An added feature is the ability to personalize your visit by having ProFusion remember which search engines you prefer to use. It can even memorize your favorite searches and automatically rerun them according to a schedule.
Unlike the services above, Dogpile (www.dogpile. com) doesn't blend results from different search engines into one list. Instead, it displays each engine's results separately. This is helpful if you prefer to see exactly how each search engine displayed its listings.
At Inference Find (www.infind.com), results from various search engines are grouped into subjects. For instance, a search for "hubs" organizes relevant pages from Nortel Network Corp. together, while pages from Intel come under that company's heading.
Metasearch utilities run from your computer and offer extra features that are particularly useful to those doing regular research. They can sort results in various ways, such as by URL, page title or search engine. You can also have your search utility download some or all of the pages that were found. Some will even highlight your search terms on the downloaded Web pages, which lets you quickly spot pertinent sections.
BullsEye, from Intelliseek (www.intelliseek.com), is a leading program for Windows; Copernic (www. copernic.com), another leading program, is available for Windows and Macintosh. Both utilities come in free and fee versions. If you shell out some money, you get additional advanced features and eliminate banner ads that the free version displays.
Windows users might also try Express Search (www.express.infoseek.com), a free search utility provided by Go Network.
As for Mac users, they have the Sherlock metasearch utility in their operating system. It's available in Mac Operating System 8.5 or higher, and more information can be found at www. apple.com/ sherlock/.
There are more search utilities to explore aside from the ones mentioned here.
A list of other packages can be found at http://searchenginewatch.com/ links/Search_Utilities/Meta_Search_Utilities/.
If metasearch is so great, why doesn't everyone use it? Well, there can be problems. Since metasearch engines depend on other search engines, it can take longer for them to retrieve results. They may even fail to retrieve results from all the places they check. Some people also prefer the greater control you may get when using a single search engine.
Despite these problems, it's worth exploring the world of metasearch - especially if you've queried one or two search engines and come up empty.
Chances are switching to metasearch, rather than trying another single search engine, will save you time and frustration.
Sullivan is owner of Calafia Consulting and an industry expert on search engines. He can be reached at www.calafia.com.