When I run my courses on searching the Internet for information one of the questions that I’m commonly asked is for regional or country based search engine information. Of course, I knew about some of the major sites and search engines that help in this area, but I always had a sneaking suspicion that there was probably a lot more out there than I was aware of. Consequently I thought it was about time I took a look at country and regional based search engines in a little more depth to see what I could come up with, so I started a little list. This ‘little list’ now has over 1,400 different search engines in it, so I thought it might be of interest if we took a little world tour to see exactly what is out there. If you’re in a hurry, the list is available from my website .
Some search engines do attempt to cover the world from a country based aspect, although most of these are not really search engines; like the CIA World Fact book . They provide users with basic factual information about a country. Their country profiles are an excellent way to obtain quick facts about a country such as size, land use, population, life expectancy, economy, communications, transportation and so on. The Library of Congress has produced a series of country studies , although there are some notable exceptions, such as the UK. However, it can prove a useful resource if you need information on rather more exotic countries, such as Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. It was a shame that a lot of the data contained was only current to 1996, but I suppose that’s better than nothing!
However, there are a few global country search engines, and of these Nations Online  proved to be quite useful, as did Orientation  which I found good for current affairs information. If you need geographical information such as maps the Xerox PARC map viewer  is a quick and effective way to obtain overviews.
For a more regional approach the Middle East seems to be best served, with about 8 different search engines, such as ArabNet , although Europe is not far behind, with engines such as Euroseek  and SearchEurope .
Some other search engines attempt to provide a regional approach, but rather than use a single interface have chosen to produce country specific versions. This is of course not a new approach, and Yahoo!  has been doing this for some time. However, it does appear to be something of a trend, and it is useful for the end user since it’s a quick and convenient way of searching particular countries, especially since some search engines such as Asiaco  and BUSCApique  do tend to focus on particular areas. Other search engines take a very specific focus regarding a country; the EscapeArtist  for example provides information specifically for those considering relocating to a new country, so it emphasises education, lifestyle, real estate and so on.
I have so far identified over 1,400 specific country search engines; it seems that almost every country in the world has at least one search engine dedicated to it, though an average figure would be between 6-8 engines per country. The vast majority tend to be of the Index/Directory type – there are very few free text search engines at all. Having said that, certain countries are much better served than others; some of the ‘big hitters’ are Australia (23), France (30), United States (36), Spain (41), India (50), Germany (58), Canada (59) and the UK (69). These figures do not in general come as that much of a surprise since they reflect the origins of those countries that produce the most web pages; the exception of course being the United States. A lot of the US search engines tended to restrict themselves to particular regions or states rather than the country as a whole. I suspect that the reason for this is that a lot of general search engines will inevitably return a lot of US based sites anyway, so there is less imperative to produce search engines that cover the entire country.
I was however surprised at some results I found. It might just be my perception of particular countries (and with no disrespect to them), but I was somewhat taken aback that Singapore can boast 23 engines, Taiwan 16, and Latvia with 7 engines to their names!
The vast majority of these engines are also of the Index/Directory variety (since that is by far the easiest way to create a search engine), and although they are obviously not as in-depth as Yahoo! the categories were very similar. The disadvantage of this approach of course is that you cannot be certain that you are going to find every appropriate web page; just those ones that the authors have decided to list with the engines. However, it’s a quick, simple and easy way to begin a search for the information you require.
Many of the search engines were either bi-lingual, or they provided an English language version, although it’s not possible to rely on this, particularly from those countries which do not use a Roman alphabet – if you intend to use Russian, Chinese or Japanese search engines I would advise you to be prepared to download the appropriate fonts before you start.
One slight irritation that I had with far too many engines was a link they have with a certain online casino which pops up in a new window, forcing me to waste my time closing it down.
Overall I was very pleased with the results of my investigations; it is quite clear that almost every country you can think of has at least one search engine that is dedicated to it; it would be easier to list countries that didn’t in fact! If you have any doubts about which search engine to use however (and as you can see, with some countries you are faced with a bewildering choice) I would be inclined to start with the major engines such as Yahoo! or Lycos, since their coverage is greater, and if you are already familiar with their approaches and categories it will save you time in the long run.