PC World

Specialty Search Engines

One of our favorite search sites has indexed a grand total of just 1600 sites. That achievement might seem negligible, except for one thing: Each of those 1600 sites is about beer. So if you seek a home brew club in Portland, Oregon, Beersite should be your search site of first resort.

From TaxTopic.com to the James T. Kirk Search Engine, single-topic search sites cover just about every subject imaginable. We found nine astronomy search sites, half a dozen on politics, and three on fishing. Within their specialty, the best are authoritative in ways that general-purpose engines rarely are, and they helped us find what we were looking for in almost all of our tests.

In addition, because these sites are so focused, the results are highly relevant: If you search for bacon at Recipes-For-All.com, you'll get recipes, not pictures of Kevin or essays by Sir Francis.

How do you find out if there's a search site devoted to, say, springer spaniels? Simple: Consult a guide to topic-specific searchers. Two of our favorites are InvisibleWeb.com and Search Engine Guide.

Only a few specialized search sites use true automated engines. (One of these is Ditto.com, which helps you find images on the Web.) Most are actually hand-compiled directories to sites on a specific topic. As such, they're better for topic searches than for highly specific queries. For instance, search All Magic Guide for Houdini, and you'll get 15 useful links about the legendary illusionist. But query on harry houdini straitjacket escape photo, and it won't find anything.

Many specialty searchers are labors of love by one obsessed Netizen. Therefore, a site will likely grow stale if its proprietor loses interest or runs short of spare time. Look for a "Last updated" banner on the home page--and move on if the site seems to be in limbo.

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