It is good practice to rotate the mattress on your bed, to prevent lopsided wear-and-tear from shortening its useful life. The same thing applies to car tires; they need rotating. Smart travelers know to rotate the airlines from which they purchase tickets, as the accumulation over time of per-ticket better prices often outweighs the rewards or miles than comes from a single airline’s loyalty perks. Even the internet itself works by allowing packets of information to dynamically rotate across different routes, based on traffic congestion, rather than tying up a full end-to-end circuit.
So why wouldn’t you rotate your search engine usage?
In Evaluation by Comparing Results Sets in Context, Paul Thomas and David Hawking found that, when branding information was removed, users could not tell the difference in quality between different natural results from two popular web search engines.
In The Effect of Brand Awareness on the Evaluation of Search Engine Results, Bernard Jansen et al showed the same exact set of results to users, but varied the branding. They found that users preferred some search engines over others strictly because of the brand, rather than any actual differences in the results themselves.
And in a relatively recent blogpost, Jon Udell writes:
By the way, DoubleSearch reveals that although Google currently finds only 5 results for pyaws wishlist amazon, Live Search finds 9. More importantly, if the blog entries from Rich Burridge and me are indeed the most relevant results, Live Search puts them first. That’s not always true, of course. Often Google does better. But not always. In any case, even when the first pages of results from both engines are equally relevant, they’ll likely differ in ways that DoubleSearch invites you notice. If you’re inclined to dismiss what I’m about to say because I’m employed as a Microsoft evangelist, then fair enough, move along, there’s nothing to see here. But if you’ve followed me over the years and continue to trust my instincts, then hear me out on this. I’ve always believed in, and acted on, the principle of diversity. If you think the same way, then you use more than one operating system, more than one programming language, more than one application in many categories. So why would you use only one search engine? If you haven’t tried Live Search in a while, you’ll find that it’s improved quite a bit. I’m not saying it’s better than Google, but I am saying it’s usefully different. Given the central importance of search, I argue that it’s in everyone’s interest to exploit that diversity.
So do you rotate your search engine usage? When you run queries, do you only stick to one engine because you are swayed by its brand? Or do you cycle through a set of engines, seeking not only answers to your queries, but also learning which engines perform better for which query types? Do you, in short, practice good information seeking hygiene?
If not, why not?