My first searches on the web were using yahoo while it was still at a stanford.edu sub-domain. It quickly grew, got its own domain and started adding on more and more "features" that made investors feel something was happening and made most users feel annoyed. The page became so cluttered, they were trying to be so many things -- and putting all of them on the home page, crowding out the search features.
Then my world changed, in 1997 I stumbled on a new search engine called Google. It was clean -- a big empty page with a few links and it was clear that being a search engine was the primary focus. The results were really impressive also, it seemed to always return relevant items.
Over time, google has grown to be the giant behemoth of the internet. Gmail; advertising programs for website owners; website analytics/user tracking; translation; shopping; everything under the sun seems to have a link to google these days. At least they have kept the primary interface clean and about searching. As they have grown to own so much of the data on the internet, I have grown more and more leery of giving them all my data.
A few new search engines came to my attention recently. While lacking the game changing impact of yahoo and google's launch, they each have some interesting features that make them worth some attention.
First in the list is Scroogle. Scroogle is just a layer between you and google. The results are taken from google. The difference is that by standing between you and google, they prevent google from tracking your searches; they keep google from associating your searches with the other data they already have about you. This is a good thing, but it's still google.
Next on the list is StartPage. Startpage promotes itself as the search engine that is most concerned about and respectful of your privacy. They claim to collect no data about people using their search engine. The results are pretty good too.
The most innovative on the list is Blekko. The first thing that caught my eye is the option of sorting the results by relevancy or by date of the content. This is huge! Google does not give users control over sorting results, they are sure that their machine knows what you want.
Bleckko also introduces an interesting way of adding parameters to searches. If you want to restrict your search to one domain only, a topical group, or basically anything, you use what they call SlashTags. Enter a term in the field and click search and you get the full set of results, add in /flicker and you limit the results to flicker. They have some interesting pre-created slash tags such as /politicalblogs, /technology and /techblogs among many others. If you create an account, you can make your own slashtags which can then be used by other Blekko users (add in slashtag /ericfg/radref and you'll only get results from the Radical Reference website). I was impressed with the quality of the results as well.