I thought that it was about time to take an in-depth peek at a specific search engine again, since many of my recent columns have looked rather more broadly at the search engine industry. I decided that I would take a look at Accoona since I have seen a few mentions of it recently, it launched a European version at the end of June 2006, and having played around with it myself for a while I have been rather impressed with it.
Let's get the name out of the way to begin with. The name Accoona is derived from the Swahili phrase, Hakuna Matata, which means "don't worry, be happy." Accoona CEO Stuart Kauder says, "The company name was chosen specifically with the end user in mind. Our goal is to make our users happy by helping them find relevant results to their queries."  The Accoona Corporation was founded in February 2004 and the search engine was released simultaneously in the US and China in December of that year. The link with China is an important one: the company formed a partnership with Chinadaily.com.cn and expects to get a significant number of hits daily from that particular marketplace. It has weathered some early criticisms  and launched a talking toolbar in April 2006 which aids and assists students (particularly Chinese students) in increasing their knowledge of spoken English .
For the purposes of this article I am going to be primarily using the European  version of the search engine, though American readers may prefer to concentrate on the American/Global version , while Chinese readers may prefer to use their local version . The search interface is very clear and indeed some may say sparse, but it follows the Google approach of keeping things nice and simple. As well as the search box itself there are three options - Web, Business, News, though strangely in the US and Chinese versions the order is News, Business, Web. I would have preferred to see a help option (regular readers know that this is something of a hobby horse of mine), and irritatingly this is available at http://www.accoona.com/help/ if you can but guess to add help/ in to the URL, but I would much prefer to see it on screen, particularly since most people will not think to hunt for the help options undirected.
The usual search options are supported, with double quotes for a phrase search, the minus symbol to exclude a word (though use of 'NOT' fails to do so) and 'OR' for one term or another term. Title:<word>, URL:<word> also worked, although link: did not seem to. There was not anything particular exciting about that aspect of the search engine, so I suppose the best that can be said for it at this point is that new users will not get lost or confused about what they can do.
The power of the search engine really starts to become apparent when looking at the news options. A search for "Tony Blair" gives me a total of 36,785 results, as opposed to 13,500 in Google News and 9,244 in Yahoo News. The default is to sort the results by relevance though I have the option of re-sorting by date (for either all articles or articles in English), which to be fair I can do with both other engines as well, but it is a useful piece of functionality wherever it comes from.
Accoona gives me a number of options to 'SuperTarget' the search from the first page of results. I can limit to date of publication from 1 hour ago to more than 30 days ago, with another 3 options in the mix as well. While I can do this in the advanced features of both Google and Yahoo, it is necessary to start delving into the options those engines offer. It is not immediately obvious either, whereas the position of the SuperTarget box on the right hand side of the Accoona results reminds us that it is easy to narrow and focus results, as well as providing a quick and easy way to do it.
One can also emphasise a particular word or phrase to give added weight in the search. A single phrase search for "tony blair" obviously does not trigger this option, but adding in 'elections' allows me to focus on one aspect or another to focus my searches.
I can also limit my results by publisher. The Accoona pull-down box gives me a listing of all the publishers who include my search term(s) from ABC News to the Yorkshire Post. Usefully I am also given an indication of the number of results that the limitation will give me. Not only is this an asset when it comes to getting a small set of results, this function also provides details as to what type of news resources are interested in a particular story, and where they are located. A large number of results from a local newspaper may for example highlight the fact that the Prime Minister paid a visit to that particular area recently. Both Google and Yahoo also give me the opportunity to limit results to specific information providers, but, rather unhelpfully, they do not give any examples. So unless I know for a fact that they take news from, for example, the Pontypridd & Llantrisant Observer I am a little stuck, whereas with Accoona, I not only know that they do index from this source, I know that there will be 349 references to look through.
The next option Accoona gives me is the option to limit my searches by company related to the search that I am running. Again this is very useful, and it provides a quick shortcut to getting directly to the information needed, especially if I am not sure if I should also try and limit a search with 'British Airways' 'BA' or 'British Airways PLC'. A nice feature is that I am not simply limited to one company either - I can run an initial search focused on Tony Blair, then reduce that to those articles mentioning British Airways and further reduce my results to those that also mention Barclays PLC as well.
The ability to limit a search by region is also available and in fact can be carried out in two ways, firstly by country and then narrowed down to county, although in the search engine this is referred to as 'state' which is a little confusing and misleading because it also includes regions such as English counties for example.
Targeting my search by limiting results to those that mention specific people is another possibility I can use with the news function of Accoona. This does throw up one or two slight oddities since some of the people mentioned in my Tony Blair search are 'India', 'Rick' and 'Youth', but this is a very minor quibble.
Languages are an option that is unsurprising (though strangely this is absent in Google News, though it is available in Yahoo), and Media is the last choice, allowing the searcher to choose to limit to (for example) audio, text or pdf.
The Accoona news search option therefore is, in my opinion, very effective. It is quick and simple to find good quality news stories and the SuperTarget function worked very well. There are minor disappointments; I would like to have seen images included in the results and both Google and Yahoo offer this as standard, and I particularly missed any option for saving the search and having new stories sent to me via email or RSS. Overall though, I found the functionality to be of a high quality, and it is certainly something that I will be using for myself in the future.
Accoona is running its own Web crawler in order to find new Web pages. This is always a good thing to see, as it gives searchers a nice opportunity to locate, one hopes, new content that has remained hitherto undiscovered. The disadvantage of the approach is that the database users' search is usually far smaller than the ones provided by the big names. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I ran some sample searches. "Tony Blair" resulted in almost 26 million hits in Accoona, 34 million in Google and 11.6 million in Yahoo. "Robert E Lee" returned 12 million hits in Accoona, 4 million in Google and 1.6 million in Yahoo. Other searches produced similar results, so clearly Accoona is in a position to compete on terms of size at the very least.
The SuperTarget feature was again available for use, though slightly changed to reflect the different focus, and provided options for emphasising particular terms, geographical searching, relevant companies, people, languages and publishers. The last option here also included key Web sites together with number of results, which I could see as being another particularly useful source of data.
The display of information was slightly disappointing; while I had all the basics of page title, URL, and synopsis there was no information on when the page had last been visited, or the chance to look at a cache for example. I would have also liked to see some sort of clustering, which is becoming very common these days, an option to save the search as an RSS feed and the chance to re-order or limit results by date. Obviously one huge omission with the search engine is the inability to search for images, which is very disappointing, but is something that I hope will be addressed in the near future.
Accoona has entered into a partnership with Dun and Bradstreet to provide information to users in the business search area. Consequently any searches here result in links to basic data such as Web site (if available), company address, telephone number, contacts and company details (number of employees and sales volume). The basic information is supplemented with a link to D & B where users can purchase more in-depth reports. SuperTarget also works here as well, though as one would expect, the options are slightly different, with choices including business type, city, state, country, company revenue, employee numbers and people search. I suspect that experienced business searchers will already have their own information sources to hand, but even then, I think this is worth a look, and certainly more than just a look if you are a user who does not habitually search for this sort of data - it may well be a good shortcut to get the business information that you need.
Accoona certainly is not a perfect search engine; no image search option, limitations on display of results and so on. However, I think that it has developed into a very sound and useful search engine. I particularly like the SuperTarget function, which really does work, and more importantly works without having to do a great deal by the way of thinking, which is always an advantage. The Web and business search options are very useful, but I think the News function is its best feature by far, and I hope that the other functionality will soon catch up with it. If you're looking around for a new search engine to try out, or you're just fed up with the Googles of this world, I would certainly suggest giving Accoona a spin.