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Beyond Google

Beyond Google

Excerpted from,aid,114725,00.asp

Beyond Google
Laurianne McLaughlin
From the April 2004 issue of PC World magazine

As heretical as this may seem to some PC users, Google doesn't know it all. Sure, the paragon of search engines deftly handles most of our search requests. But just as you wouldn't drive miles past the local grocery store to a cavernous warehouse club to buy a dozen eggs, you don't want to slog through pages of search results from Google or another search engine every time you need a bit of information.

Better to rely on a cadre of specialized sites that will swiftly retrieve the nuggets you're looking for. Here are the best data resources on the Web, from the latest business news sites to the most useful addresses for hearth and home.

Reference & News

Online directories:
The jam-packed is full of facts and figures, updated news, and links to sources from phone books to world clocks. The site virtually speed-dials the answers to you. (Warning: If you're a word-of-the-day type, you may get sucked in by its many language goodies.) If doesn't satisfy your trivia jones, browse to Gary Price's Fast Facts page, where you can consult a directory that covers everything from baseball to plastics.

For another one-stop facts and reference shop, consider Martindale's The Reference Desk, with links to world clocks, boating knots, international copyright information, travel tips, and scientific libraries. Also fast and furiously helpful is the Open Directory Project's reference search. Assembled by volunteers, the site lists diverse categories of information and is ad-free.

Homework helpers: The Yahoo Education page is especially handy for kids' research projects. This site lets you search current reference titles, including world fact books and Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, and it won't overwhelm young researchers. Or try Wikipedia, a volunteer encyclopedia with a global flavor, for data on topics from math to mythology to the arts.

Education: The Educator's Reference Desk (see FIGURE 1) has resources, answers, articles, and links to organizations for parents and teachers. Topics include peer counseling, safety, and distance learning, among others.

Associations: The American Society of Association Executives' Gateway to Associations Online lets you search more than 6500 associations, using keywords or any word that appears in the association's name. These groups often corral the best, most current information on topics for work and home.

News or magazine articles: All of the major search sites have their own feature-packed news pages. When you can't find a current story or topic at, visit Daypop, which searches more than 59,000 news sites plus Web logs. Looksmart's FindArticles allows you to search on a topic, though strangely, not on an author name. To search for magazine articles on a topic or by author name, consult with (see FIGURE 2), a site that rounds up articles on such subjects as computers, health, business, entertainment, and politics. When you find an article that helps, the site scouts out more like it. To access current opinion pieces from about 600 English-language publications, visit the Opinion-Pages.

Business & Professional

When you need financial filings, information on a business, or referrals to professionals in your area, megasearch sites can bog you down or leave you empty-handed. Particularly with localized information, specialty sites prove their mettle.

Small business and professional practices: MelissaData offers one-stop access to phone directories, zip codes, post office locations, and demographics such as income tax statistics and home sales--valuable goodies for doing your own marketing. Aside from the great freebies, MelissaData sells an array of products and services for small businesses and professionals.

For tips, advice, and case studies involving small businesses, the dragnet cast by a big search engine pulls in some dubious sources. Instead, go to and Despite its sometimes dated articles, the latter covers key topics and questions and helps you with sample contracts and other nitty-gritty jobs. It's just too hard to find this stuff elsewhere.

Initial public offerings and 10K filings: For IPOs and corporations' annual 10K filings with the SEC, see EDGAR Online's IPO Express. For a monthly fee of $6 to $28, the site searches IPO filings by locale, price, or industry. You get e-mail alerts on new IPOs, full reports on companies once they're public, and weekly reports on IPO activity. FreeEDGAR lets you search SEC filings for free once you've registered with the site, but it limits you to 19 document views a month. For a fee of $900 a year, EDGAR Online Pro offers more-complete company data and a wider range of alert tools, including income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and reports about insider trading. For year-end SEC-filed annual 10K reports, 10K Wizard gives you flexible download options and all the current data you need at fees of $25 per month, $75 per quarter, or $175 per year.

Companies, industries, and markets: To get conversant in an industry quickly, or to gain insight into a company or market prior to a job interview or client pitch, go to Gary Price's List of Lists and drill down on banking, insurance, wholesale and retail trade, and other industries. The site provides information drawn from trade magazines on key companies, crucial deals, power players, and important statistics.

Global public company data: The Scannery gives investors the scoop on more than 11,000 companies worldwide (including the S&P 500, Euro 400, and Global 1000) by searching corporate Web sites. The site's flexible search options help you find the company you want even if you're not sure of the name (it allows "sounds like" and synonym searches, for example). The Scannery's consolidation option groups all hits on a company's Web site for your search phrase and ranks the documents according to their relevance to your search.

Professional services: The big search engines have yet to conquer the problem of localized data. Google is trying: Its beta Search by Location program lets you search within a geographic area, but the quality of its results remains hit-or-miss. If you're looking for a networking consultant, interior decorator, civil engineer, or other service provider in your area, yellow-page directories such as still work faster. When you want the names of companies in a specific industry within a particular area, a good source is the Open Directory Project's Business Resources list. For example, searching for "CPA + Massachusetts" at this site retrieved a link to the state society of CPAs, which was exactly what I was looking for.

Gary Price's List of Lists for Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services features industry and trade-magazine rankings of many different types of firms that you or your business might employ, such as intellectual-property lawyers, advertising firms, and PR agencies. A few of the list's entries are out-of-date, but they're easy to browse.

Industrial products and services: The site maintains an extensive list of all types of business goods and services--including engineering, consulting, and contracting work--along with the companies that provide them. Choose the appropriate professional services category to find companies that handle jobs such as billing, direct mail, and translating. The site's solid organization will save you and your business much time and hassle.

Business law: Doug Isenberg's (see FIGURE 3) provides tidy, up-to-date, and comprehensive essays on many legal topics written by attorneys practicing in the specific relevant fields. Running a keyword search on this site often produces good analyses of recent or proposed law changes as well. The Small Business Administration's Laws & Regulations Library provides quick access to the text of recent regulations and legislation.

Personal finance: Money advice on the Web reminds me of online personal ads: There's an abundance of wacky information. Rather than wade through the dross, head for a site like MSN Money or for reliable answers and resources on banking, investing, financial planning, and taxes. Whether you like financial advisor Suze Orman or not, her list of Sites to See quickly points to useful resources on such topics as credit card scores and Roth IRA accounts.
Government Information & Public Records

Anyone waiting in line at a government agency knows the sinking feeling of watching grains of sand drop through an hourglass. Don't replicate this experience by looking for up-to-date government information at the search megasites.

Government agencies: To locate the Web site of a particular agency, just type the name into a search engine. But what if you're unsure which agency you need? In that case, take a look at, the granddaddy of government sites. It will direct you to federal, state, and local agencies, or to information on government benefits, driver's license applications, employment opportunities, statistics, laws, and contact information for lawmakers. Alternatively, you could try or, but FirstGov's organization and categories often work faster, especially if you know what you want but you don't know who's in charge of it.

Public records: Search Systems is the best resource I've come across for finding information in national and state records. Choose a state and get data on local banks in trouble, court cases, bankruptcy information, and professional licenses. The last feature is especially helpful when you want to check credentials. Access to most of the site's records is free, and its fee-based services are clearly marked.

Statistics: When you need government stats for a presentation or report, hit The White House Economic Statistics Briefing Room for economic numbers from federal agencies, such as current unemployment rates. Also pay a visit to the U.S. Census Bureau's American FactFinder. Need localized census data for your small-business plan or loan application? Consult the Census Bureau's County Business Patterns for county-level business demographics. Then, for the big picture, check out The Population Reference Bureau's AmeriStat to get social-science statistics compiled with the assistance of the University of Michigan's Social Science Data Analysis Network.
Food & Drink

Nobody wants to waste precious personal time on Web searches. But big search engines don't work efficiently for some personal needs, such as cooking advice. I learned my lesson last summer when my husband arrived home with a slew of freshly caught fish and I tried plugging the fish's name plus "recipe" into Google. The results list left me underwater and underwhelmed: There were too many recipes from amateur cooks, and I had no way to judge whether one recipe was better than another.

Recipes: For the dish on gastronomic creations from Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines, how to make a certain cocktail, or where to dine on an impending trip, Epicurious (FIGURE 5) almost always scores. Its recipes range from restaurant fare to quick meals. The Recipe Power Search at lets you be super-specific. You can search exclusively for recipes that suit a food and meal type, region, occasion, or technique (including "freezes well," "grilled," and "spicy"). For comfort food or directions on how to make a child's birthday cake, visit Betty Crocker online.

Wine: The advanced search page at Wine Spectator lets you do a close-match search--helpful when you aren't sure of a wine's name. The site lets you limit searches to tasting reports, news articles, or other specific categories.
Health Matters

When you research medical topics, who do you trust? These sites have earned their reputations for trustworthiness.

Physicians: Grab basic information about doctors in your area at the American Medical Association's Physician Select, which allows you to research U.S. doctors (almost 700,000 of them) by name, specialty, and location. Consult the site's medical library, or read information supplied by the doctors about their practices (some provide more information than others).

Medical conditions and drugs: The Merck Manual (see FIGURE 6), a service of the pharmaceutical giant, is a concise and useful starting guide for all things medicinal. stockpiles current, expert information on diseases and drugs, interactive tools to help you make health decisions, and question-and-answer material from specialists. I prefer both of these sites to the often-cited WebMD, which at times gives too much information (about possible symptoms, for example) without providing enough context, almost convincing me that I have a problem when I don't. The Food and Drug Administration's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research enables you to compare prescription, over-the-counter, and even discontinued drugs by brand name and active ingredient.

Medical research: (free to consumers after registration) lets you search sources including the Medline database (the best-known of its kind in the United States) for information on diseases and conditions, related organizations, current news and articles, and research and trials.
Great Getaways

You know about the big travel sites and how to find bargains on them (visit our February "Web Stars" roundup of the best travel sites). But you can't live by Orbitz or Expedia alone if you want travel tips and deals.

Travel: Journey to the USA Today Travel page and you will find such peripatetic essentials as city guides, hotel deals, and flight trackers. Browse to Whatsonwhen (see FIGURE 7) to hunt for happenings around the world. You can search its events listings by date and topic--if you're looking for a good business reason to travel to Tuscany this summer, for example.

Traveling on a whim?'s last-minute travel guide compiles fare discounts offered on major travel sites. Site59 lists last-minute weekend packages on travel to 70-plus cities.

Airlines: InsideFlyer provides tips and news alerts on frequent-flyer and other reward programs. Many of the site's articles are free, and the online one-year subscription for full access to articles is a steal at $12. (Just think of it as an appetizing alternative to one overpriced, dry sandwich from an airport food vendor.) First Class Flyer provides inside tips on how to score upgraded and first-class travel at discount prices, though full access to the advice costs $97 per year.

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