Google/Bing alternative Qwant offers useful bells and whistles—and nobody’s talking about it2013-02-14
There’s an intriguing new search engine in town, and despite some compelling features, I have been able to find virtually nothing written about it.
Evidently based in France, Qwant (according to its brief ABOUT page) was founded in 2011 and launched last month “after 2 years of research and development.” Qwant has a Twitter account (at least, I think the Twitter account is from the search provider) with a scant 635 followers—tweets seem to focus on interesting stuff the Qwant staff has found—and no Facebook presence at all.
With Microsoft spending bazillions of dollars to promote Bing and gaining incremental growth, you have to wonder how a startup could think it could chip away at Google’s dominance. But when you have a good idea, you just have to run with it.
Still in Beta, QWant’s home page is as spartan and dominated by white space as Google’s. The logotype—a Google-like different color for each letter—is accompanied by the text entry field and the search button, along with a few lines of trending topics. It’s after you submit a query that things begin looking dramatically different.
The “classic” view of a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is divided into six sections. Images and videos that match the query appear in a strip at the top of the page. Beneath that are five columns: web, live (which seems to be content from mainstream news outlets), social, shopping, and the Qnowledge Graph. Except for the latter, each of these categories contains contains its own discrete search query field you can use to refine your search of just, say, the Live results.
I opted for something timely to test Qwant: US Senator Marco Rubio, who delivered the Republican response to the President’s State of the Union address, bent over during his remarks, stretching his hand out of the frame to get a drink from a bottle of Poland Water. (C|Net has already taken the Poland Water brand to task for not capitalizing on the real-time opportunity.) So, I queried on “Poland Water.”
The Web results weren’t dissimilar to Google’s, although you have to exclude the “News for poland water” results, since Qwant lists those under the separate Live heading. The official brand website comes up first, followed by the Wikipedia entry and then several etailers that carry the product. Each result can be bookmarked by clicking the red bookmark icon, which is emblazoned with a Q. I refined the results by searching on “Rubio,” and the results narrowed to reports from news outlets, blogs and other channels that were writing about the senator’s “water-gate” moment.
These results were different from the Live results, which appear to focus on top-shelf news organizations, such as the Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post and the Chicago Tribune. In the Social column, tweets and Facebook status updates dominated the results, while most of the shopping results pointed to Amazon.com.
The Qnowledge Graph showed only the Poland Spring logo, a link to the website and a listing of Nestle Waters as the brand’s owner. Curious, I searched on a larger organization—British Petroleum—and the Qnowledge Graph displayed far more information beneath the logo, such as the exchanges on which its shares are traded, founding information, headquarters location, a listing of key executives, products, services, revenue and number of employees.
The separation of results into columns you can use gets more interesting when you try one of the other views. Switching from Classic to Mosaic, for example, turns the page into a more newspaper-like view (an interesting approach given recent research that suggests people who consume news via mobile devices prefer a print-like interface). You can still narrow your results, since the “refine your search” queries are stacked up on the left-hand side of the page.
The media view is the equivalent of Google’s image search, although it throws video into the mix. More intriguing is the People view, which shows profile pages from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Plus and even MySpace. The profiles cover both organizations with a presence in these networks and individuals affiliated with the company. (When I searched Dell in the People view, Chief Blogger Lionel Menchaca appeared, among others.) Clicking any of these results lets you read that individual’s latest updates, bookmark the individual or connect with them via your own social media accounts.
Qwant is accessible in 15 languages, including English, French, Turkish, German, Hebrew and Chinese. If you’re looking to get out of the Google/Bing rut, it could be your best find of the week.