The biggest hassle of using the Net is finding what you're looking for. David Fox tries out the leading search engines and directories and comes up with the Network+ Top 10
There are millions of pages on the Internet about almost every possible topic. Finding what you want, however, can be difficult. To track down the relevant information, you can use either a directory or a search engine, but there are well over 600 of these.

Directories such as Yahoo! are created by people, and are best for browsing the Net, as they are categorised by topic and you know that someone else has viewed the sites and, usually, rated them.

Search engines, such as AltaVista, are created by software which trawls through all the information on the Internet, putting sites into its database. Consequently, if anything can find it, these can. However, they also turn up a lot of dreck. So if you are looking for a Manchester United site, you may find yourself presented with a 13-year-old Turk's home page which just includes a mention of the Reds losing to Fenerbahce.

Most search engines use some form of relevancy ranking, but this is a mathematical system, and is easily fooled by Webmasters who want to ensure that their pages come up frequently.

Several sites, such as Lycos, include both search and directory features, and almost all directories have a link to a search engine (Yahoo! uses AltaVista).

According to the latest PC Meter market research, the most popular search sites are: Yahoo!, Webcrawler, Excite, Infoseek and Lycos. But which are best for finding useful information fast? After extensive testing, here are the Network + Top 10, plus some others worth a look. If you don't find what you want with one, try another. None of them is truly comprehensive. To get the most out of them, visit their help or FAQ pages.

1. HotBot

Its excellent design means you don't have to resort to Boolean searches (AND, NOT, OR, etc) to get a good match. Especially welcome is the ability to specify time, and to search only the last week, say. It's fast and comprehensive, and delivers up to 100 results per page, rated for relevance.

2. AltaVista

Fast, simple, comprehensive; and claims to be the most popular search engine, with more than 27 million hits per day. It can be indiscriminate, but has just added a neat feature, Live Topics. This simplifies honing a search to produce useful results through lists of further topics associated with your search.

3. Lycos

This is a good search engine offering lots of extra services, including free classified advertising, financial news, maps and city guides.

The excellent Top 5% Sites directory, also included, acts as a good starting point for general browsing.

4. Infoseek

This has indexed about 21 million pages, derived from more than 100 million URLs after eliminating duplicates and dead ends. It has just launched an e-mail news service and UK version (among more than 20 country-specific areas) plus a good directory, UK Plus (, which includes news and site reviews.

5. Yahoo! UK & Ireland

A local offshoot of the most popular directory, Yahoo! ( There is also a cheerful, kids-only version, Yahooligans (, and a new World Wide Web directory for women, Beatrice's Web Guide (

6. Excite

This is now the main search engine for AOL. It has just launched a free news clippings service, tracking up to 20 specific topics from 300 (mainly American) publications. A neat feature is that it learns your tastes over time. Excite also owns Magellan (http://www., which offers a large selection of useful reviews and a fascinating Search Voyeur page showing what people are looking for (and, incidentally, how bad their

spelling is).

7. Metacrawler

This allows you access the main search engines at the same time, and gets rid of duplicate replies.

8. DejaNews

This is the best newsgroup searcher, with more than 20,000 newsgroups and 91 million articles updated several times daily. Or try the new engine (http://www., which also searches e-mail lists and Web forums.

9. Open Text

This is a friendly, reliable engine which delivers good results.

10. YellowWeb

It's like a Lycos for Europe, with lots of added value services such as news.

Also worth a try:

BigEye Web Guide

A great place to start browsing. Not many links, but good ones, mainly American.


Justifiably popular, but can be slow.


A Reader's Digest venture with a growing number of reviewed sites, plus links to search engines. Notable for the way it remains on your screen and shows found pages within its frames. A bad idea that reduces your display area.

The Global Online Directory

It proves GOD may be British but is not omni-potent. More for browsers than for searchers.


Galaxy has a directory aimed at business and professional users.

World Wide Web Worm

Good at finding hyperlinks from one document to another, but is otherwise ordinary.


It claims to be the largest search engine dedicated to finding software (ftp sites), with a list of more than 75 million files, categorised by platform and type. Very useful.